changing of the guard ceremony involved lots of flag waving and weapons inspecting
carved stone animals representing the zodiac offered protection — though apparently not from the Japanese
“Japsang’–small figurines of humans or animals adorned the palace rooftops. According to shamanistic beliefs, japsang prevented evil spirits or bad energy from coming into the palace.
Jagyeongjeon — the queen dowager’s residence — was the most elegant living quaters on the palace grounds. ‘Jagyeong’ means ‘wish for much happiness for senior royal ladies. ’This is the only surviving living quarter that dates back Joseon period (others were burned in one of many fires.)
I need some of these critters
Nobody would notice if I tasted one, right?
loved all the colors, textures and patterns
We jumped on a KTX to Seoul over 4th of July weekend and, after quickly checking into our hotel and changing into shorts, jumped back onto the subway to tour one of Seoul’s five grand palaces.
Built during the Joseon dynasty, the supposed grandest, most beautiful (or at least largest?) of the five palaces, Gyeongbokgung served as both a royal home and seat of government. Until the Japanese invaded… The first time around the palace was burned and left to decay for a couple hundred years before it was eventually restored…and then destroyed once more by Imperial Japan. In between burning down the palace (twice), the Japanese also managed to brutally assassinate an Empress.
As we explored the now quiet, mostly restored palace, it was hard to imagine how much time had passed since the palace had been first built in the late 1300s, and hard to imagine how much history the palace had witnessed. In the sticky summer humidity people lounged under the sweeping roofs and meandered through arched gateways that led to peaceful overgrown gardens. In present times, selfie-stick wielding, camera phone tripod carrying tourists were the only invaders.
I was not expecting the palace to be so expansive. We walked through building after building, gate after gate, archway after archway, until we reached the Queen Dowager’s beautifully painted private residence. Continuing past the queen’s private gardens we walked outside of what we thought was the palace boundaries (it wasn’t — the palace continued) before turning around and exploring the smaller side buildings.
We missed out on seeing some of the most iconic palace pavilions in favor of poking around the less-traveled dining halls and kitchens. Seeing how/what/where people ate is typically my favorite part of any house or palace tour. While I couldn’t imagine the palace beyond present day, I could imagine the day-to-day activity of eating. I envisioned people sitting on silk pillows, sipping tea, slurping soup, and daintily biting into brightly colored rice cakes. The rooms had been set up with tables of realistic looking food, as if the royal family had just stepped away for a short time and would return any second to finish their meal.
Several hours (!) later, having lost all track of time, we emerged from the maze of buildings and found our way back to the front gate. It was now close to closing time and it finally felt as if we had the palace all to ourselves. If only those walls could talk.
GYEONGBOKGUNG PALACE 경복궁 // COST: 3,000 KRW or 10,000 KRW for a combo ticket to visit the five palaces. When we visited in July admission to all of the palaces was free for the entire month! I also read that admission to the palaces is free when wearing traditional Korean attire. I’m not sure if this is true but we did see places outside the palace gates that seemed to rent Hanboks as well as groups of tourists roaming around the palace in traditional Korean clothes. // DESCRIPTION: Massive royal palace with nearby folk museum. Depending on how into exploring palaces you are, this could easily take a half day of exploring, especially if including the museum. The changing of the guard ceremony occurs at the gate several times a day. Free guided tours in English are available. // GOOD FOR: History buffs, architecture buffs, photography buffs, antsy children — there’s something here for everyone and enough space and smaller buildings to explore that it’s easy to get away from the crowds. // VERDICT: Highly recommended. I wish we had more time to explore the pavilions by the pond though I’m glad we explored the less visited/crowded smaller side buildings. // TIP: While tours are available you can download a wonderful little booklet (that I of course discovered after the fact) to use while exploring the palace.