Jongmyo Shrine is a culturally and historically significant landmark in Seoul, South Korea, and one of the most popular attractions for both domestic and international tourists visiting the country. It is the Royal Shrine in Seoul where all but two kings and queens from the era of the Joseon Dynasty are enshrined. It is the oldest Confucian shrine in the world, dating all the way back to the fourteenth century.
At the time it was built, it contained seven rooms and was thought to be the longest building in Asia. Subsequent kings expanded the Jongmyo Shrine until it ultimate housed nineteen rooms that would serve as the eternal resting place of the royalty of Korea. This impressive Confucian shrine in Seoul was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1995.
The Royal Shrine in Seoul was constructed at the same time as the Gyeongbok Palace and Changdeokgung, and resides on the same grounds. The shrine was built for the purpose of keeping the ancestral tablets of the kings of Korea in a safe place, along with their bodies. During the Seven Year War with the Japanese between 1592 and 1598 invader burnt down the original shrine. It was reconstructed in 1601 and this building remains to this very day. One of the biggest appeals of this popular attraction in Seoul is that it has been perfectly kept for over 400 years.
In keeping with Confucian tradition, the Confucian Shrine in Seoul was originally meant to be the place where family of the royalty would perform elaborate rites honoring their royal ancestors five times per year. This ceremony still takes place to this day, but occurs only once in the month of May. The ceremony itself is now a highly sought after attraction for people from all over the world. Witnessing the ceremony allows guests the ability to see what royal rites were like some 500 years ago during the reign of the Joseon. It is a pretty amazing scene in general, as descendants of Korean royalty take part in the ceremony while traditional court music plays in the background. The rites that are performed are categorized by the highly organized South Korean government as Intangible Cultural Property #56, while the music that is performed (Chongmyo Cherye-ak) is designated as Intangible Cultural Property #1. Every year at the ceremony in May, the traditional music is performed at the Jongmyo Shrine by the Royal Court Orchestra.
There are several notable sights within the grounds that you should definitely explore if you have the chance to visit the Confucian Shrine in Seoul. Cheongjeon is the main hall at the shrine and is National Treasure #227. It is the actual hall where the kings and queens along with their tablets are enshrined. It is the longest traditionally constructed building in South Korea. At the northern point of the hall there is a bridge to Changgyeong Palace. Kids get into the Royal Shrine in Seoul for free and it is a nominal fee for adults, especially considering the range of amazing historical sights you get to see all in one place.