Gyeongbok Palace was the first of the Five Grand Palaces constructed by the kings of the Joseon Empire in the 1300s and 1400s. It’s formal name is Gyeongbokgung, but is most commonly referred to as Gyeongbok Palace. It is a Seoul royal palace where seven of the twelve kings of Korea between the years of 1399 and 1549 were throned. It was decimated by fire during the invasion of the Japanese in the year 1592. There remain only a fraction of the buildings at this sacred site where they once numbered over 200. Besides the impressive constructs that remain, the Joseon Palace Museum and the Korean Folk Museum (both located on the premises) are very popular attractions, especially for international tourists interested in engaging the history of Korea more fully.
Despite the fact that many of the original buildings were completely destroyed, a major reconstruction and refurbishment project has been undertaken by the South Korean government to restore as many of the original buildings as possible. As of 2009, upwards of 40 percent of the buildings were either restored or being restored.
Gyeongbokgung is located in northern Seoul and the main gate, Gwanghwamun, separates the palace grounds from a busy, pedestrian part of the city. It was built in 1395 by King Taejo in the fourth year of his reign as king, when it was decided that the capital of the Yi Dynasty would be relocated to Seoul. The new palace was meant to be the headquarters for government and a whole range of other social and cultural activities. Over the course of the 600 years that followed the original constructions of the Gyeongbok Palace, a series of disastrous events, not the least of which was the Japanese occupation of the late 1500s and once again in the early 1900s, threatened the survival of this national treasure. Its staying power is testament to the Korean peoples’ dedication to preserving their most historically and spiritually significant places. Besides a number of major halls and gates, there are also a variety of store rooms, bridges, and other features that give visitors an idea of the original layout of the grounds. There is also a map that shows what the site looked like when the Seoul Royal Palace was first constructed and was the center of cultural and civic life on the Korean peninsula.
Of the buildings that remain at Gyeongbok Palace, Keunjeong-jeon is one of the most popular attractions. It was the royal throne hall of the king and is South Korea’s oldest extant wood building. Chagyong-jeon was Queen Dowager Cho’s personal living quarters. This is one of the most impressively designed constructs on the grounds and features an assortment of ornate designs and architectural conventions. Kyeongho-ru is the biggest pavilion on the site and is indexed as National Treasure #224.
These are just a couple examples of the beautiful structures that remain at the Seoul Royal Palace. If you are visiting Seoul and want to gain a better understanding of the cultural history of South Korea, you should consider visiting the marvelous Gyeongbokgung, as well as Changdeokgung and Deoksugung.