Monday, 8 April 2013

Gyeongbokgung Palace: Part 1

Angela and I recently enjoyed a sunny sunday exploring the grounds of Gyeongbokgung, the largest of Seoul's "Five Grand Palaces." Originally constructed in the 1300s for King Taejo, founder of the Joseon Dynasty, it was destroyed and rebuilt several times over the following centuries. Most recently, it was systematically demolished by the Japanese during their occupation of Korea in the early 20th century. In 1989 the Korean government began a 40-year project to reverse the damage dealt by Japan, gradually restoring hundreds of buildings and structures of the palace. As of this writing, around half of the buildings that were standing before Japanese occupation have now been rebuilt. Perhaps Angela and I will have to pay it another visit when reconstruction is at 100 percent!

We started our visit in nearby City Hall station. You can actually get to the palace much more quickly via Gwanghwamun or Anguk stations, but the sun was shining and we wanted to walk for a while. On the way there we passed a big stone compass showing the directions of various global cities. Angela's home city, Washington D.C. is over 11'000 kilometres away.
My city, London, is over 8000 kilometres from Seoul.
A great way to approach the palace is via Gwanghwamun Plaza. Opened in 2009 as one of Seoul's many recent renovation projects (which include the Cheonggyecheon Stream and the Han River Renaissance Project) it stretches for around half a kilometre from Gwanghwamun (the front gate of the palace, which you can see in the distance) to this old statue of Admiral Yi, the Horatio Nelson of Korean history.

There is also a large statue of King Sejong, famous for overseeing the creation of Hangeul (the Korean alphabet), in the 1400s.
Lining the grassy stretch that leads to Gwanghwamun was a flea market. 
Lots of families were sitting on designated spots where they sold their wares to passersby.

Finally we reached Gwanghwamun, the gate to Gyeongbokgung Palace.
This man was sitting in silence right outside the gate. His sign reads: "The Bible is the word of God."
A child poses in front of the gate. 
We arrived with good timing, as these royal guards were just beginning their hourly guard changing ceremony.

After passing through Gwanghwamun, you buy your tickets in this opening section before entering the palace proper via Heungnyemun, the second inner gate.
Beyond the second gate is Geunjeongjeon, a large throne hall where the king would discuss official matters with his attendants and generals, make important announces to his citizens, and greet foreign ambassadors and envoys.
Inside the throne room. There was a huge crowd fighting to take pictures here. It reminded me of trying to get a photo of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. 
The frontmost sections of the palace were thronged with tourists but it didn't take long to find some quieter spots.
Doors within doors.
I did some jumping around in the dust while no one was looking.
Approaching the National Folk Museum, which is located on the palace grounds.
Near the folk museum were some statues representing the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac.
These are statues of scholars and military officers, which were usually erected in front of the tombs of important figures in order to spiritually guide and guard them.
The Folk Museum stands behind a Korean cartoon character which reminds me of the video-game, Katamari Damacy.
Angela poses with an old 1960's era Korean train.

Click here to read Part 2!

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