The beautifully ornate craftsmanship on display at Deoksugung Palace in Seoul.
Hello Again Everyone!!
I had been to Deoksugung Palace (“ Palace of Virtuous Longevity”) twice before the summer of 2008, and it was only by chance that I ended up going again. I had been planning to meet up with a student that had just recently graduated from high school; a student that I taught in Canada. She was from Seoul, knew that I was going to be in the area, and wanted to meet up. Originally, we were going to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace, but when we got there on Tuesday, it was closed. As a heads-up, if you want to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace, don’t visit on Tuesday because it’s closed. So instead, we decided, after a bit of hemming and hawing, to go to Deoksugung Palace. I hadn’t been in a while, and it was close to her home, so we got on the Seoul subway and made our way to our second palace pick.
Originally, Deoksugung Palace(덕수궁) was built as a private residence for King Sejo’s grandson in the mid-1400’s. However, after the sacking of Seoul in 1592 by the Japanese, this residence became a temporary palace in 1593. And for the next 15 years it was used as the official royal residence and seat of government for Korea. In 1623, King Injo moved the throne to the Changdeokgung Palace, and the Deoksugung Palace reverted back to being a subsidiary palace. And in 1895, after Queen Min was murdered at Gyeongbokgung Palace, both King Gojong and his son (future King Sunjong) fled to the Russian Legation for protection. Finally, in 1897, both father and son moved to Deoksugung Palace, where King Gojong was to die in 1919. After a decade of neglect, the palace was open to the public in 1933.
Back in 2004, the first time I visited Deoksugung Palace, the main gate, Daehan-mun (“Great Han Gate”) was still under renovation. But fortunately for us now, it’s no longer under renovation. Originally, this gate was located on the south wall, but was subsequently moved to the east wall, where it stands now. It was moved to its present location because of the traffic problems it was creating. This is the smallest gate at any of the major palaces in Seoul, but don’t let this fool you, as Daehan-mun is just as beautiful and magnificent in its own right. And if you’re lucky enough to visit the palace at 11 a.m., 2 p.m., or 3:30 p.m., like we were, you’ll be able to watch an authentic Joseon Dynasty changing of the guard ceremony. As you pass through Daehan-mun, you’ll cross a stone bridge that is traditional to all Korean palaces. While a lot more compact than the other Seoul palaces because of a disastrous fire in 1904, Deoksugung Palace deceptively looks larger than it actually is. To the right is a wide field with a statue of King Sejong, while on the left is a path that leads to Junghwa-mun. This is the gate that allows entrance to the palace courtyard and throne hall, Junghwa-jeon (“Hall of Central Harmony”). This throne hall was burnt down in 1904 and rebuilt again two years later, and it’s the newest throne hall out of all the major palaces in Seoul. Behind the throne hall are the uniquely designed buildings: Junmyeong-dong and Jukjo-dang. They are connected by an enclosed walkway used for official court business. A third, and more unusual building, is Seogeo-dang. It’s unusual because it’s the only two-story royal residence hall from the Joseon Dynasty. In a walled compound to the right is Deokhong-jeon, where the king conducted business; and the L-shaped Hamnyeong-dang, which was a living quarters where King Gojong died in 1919. The out of place western-looking building is Jeonggwan-heon. It was built in 1900 and hosted the king’s parties. On the palace grounds there’s also a National Museum of Art. It costs 11,000 Won for adults. Personally, I’ve never visited.
HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Deoksugung Palace, you should get off at the City Hall Station on subway line #1, and take exit #2. If you’re getting off at City Hall Station from subway line #2, you should take exit #12. The cost of admission is 1,000 won. The palace is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Additionally, free English tours are given at 10:30a.m. from Monday to Friday, and at 1:40 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
View Deoksugung in a larger map
OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. While certainly not the most impressive of the palaces located in Seoul, any palace you visit in Seoul is well worth the trip. The most impressive features about the palace are Daehan-mun, the main gate at the palace; the statue of King Sejong on the green lawn; and Seogeo-dang, the only two-storied residence from the Joseon Dynasty. The drawbacks are the newer looking buildings and the smaller size of the palace. But either way, if you have the time, and want to see a beautiful palace, make a stop at Deoksugung Palace.