Touring Inside Gyeongbokgung Palace and Watching Gatekeepers Performances (Changing of the Guards)

Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁) was the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty. Gyeongbokgung Palace is the largest of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon dynasty. Gyeongbokgung served as the home of Kings of the Joseon dynasty, the Kings’ households, as well as the government of Joseon. Gyeongbokgung Palace is also a symbol of 14th-century Korea, striking a muted balance between beauty and simplicity.

Gyeongbokgung was built three years after Joseon dynasty was founded. With Mount Bugak as a backdrop and the Street of Six Ministries (today’s Sejongno) outside Gwanghwamun Gate, the main entrance to the palace, Gyeongbokgung was situated in the heart of the Korean capital city.

Gyengbokgung Palace
The second layer gate, after main entrance (Gwanghamun Gate)

Gyeongbokgung Palace was left derelict during 273 years and rebuilt in 1867. Unfortunately, due to its status as the symbol of national sovereignty, Gyeongbokgung was demolished during the Japanese occupation. Restoration efforts have been ongoing since 1990.

In 1995, the Japanese General Government Building, after many controversial debates about its fate, was demolished in order to reconstruct Heungnyemun Gate and its cloisters. The National Museum of Korea, then located on the palace grounds, was relocated to Yongsan-gu in 2005. By the end of 2009, it was estimated that approximately 40 percent of the structures that were standing before the Japanese occupation of Korea were restored or reconstructed. As a part of phase 5 of the Gyeongbokgung restoration initiative, Gwanghwamun, the main gate to the palace, was restored to its original design. Another 20-year restoration project is planned by the South Korean government to restore Gyeongbokgung to its former status.

Then.. let’s talk about some building in Gyeongbokgung Palace’s complex.

1. Gwanghamun

Gwanghamun is the main and largest gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace. It is located at a three-way intersection at the northern end of Sejongno. The gate has gone through multiple periods of destruction and disrepair. Restoration work on the gate was finished and it was opened to the public on August 15, 2010.

Main gate Gyengbokgung Palace
Gwanghwamun was first constructed in 1395 as the main gate to Gyeongbokgung Palace, the main and most important royal palace during the Joseon Dynasty. During the 1592 Japanese invasion, it was destroyed by fire and left in ruins for over 250 years. Gwanghwamun underwent a major restoration project since December 2006 and was finished in August 2010. Since then, Gwanghwamun was opened to the public.

The area in front of Gwanghwamun, known as the Gwanghwamun Plaza, actually was opened as a public open space on 1 August 2009. Because of huge visitors usually watch the changing of the guards at this main gate, on 23 September 2012, Seoul Metropolitan Government started on a trial basis, a 550-m designated section of Sejong-ro as pedestrian-only but permitted for cyclists. The section includes the road from the Gwanghwamun three-way intersection, along Gwanghwamun Plaza in front of the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts to the Sejong-ro intersection.

2. Gangnyeongjeon Hall

Gangnyeongjeon Hall is a building which used as the king’s main residing quarters. It was built in 1395, the building contains the king’s bed chamber (visitors can also see inside from outside the building). This building was destroyed during the Japanese invasions of Korea in 1592 and was rebuilt when Gyeongbokgung was reconstructed in 1867, but it was again burned down by a major fire in November 1876 and had to be restored in 1888 following the orders of King Gojong.

Gangnyeongjeon Hall in Gyeongbokgung Palace
This building is called Gangnyeongjeon. It has a function to be King’s quarters.

Gangnyeongjeon consists of corridors and fourteen rectangular chambers, each seven chambers located to the left and right side of the building in a layout out like a checkerboard. The king used the central chamber while the court attendants occupied the remaining side chambers to protect, assist, and to receive orders. The building rests on top of a tall stone foundation, and a stone deck or veranda is located in front of the building.

3. Geunjeongjeon Hall also known as Throne Hall

Geunjeongjeon Hall, is the throne hall where the king formally granted audiences to his officials, gave declarations of national importance, and greeted foreign envoys and ambassadors during the Joseon dynasty. Geunjeongjeon was originally constructed in 1395 during the reign of King Taejo, but was burned down in 1592 when the Japanese invaded Korea. The present building was built in 1867 when Gyeongbokgung was being reconstructed.

Gyengbokgung Palace
Constructed mainly of wood, Geunjeongjeon sits on the center of a large rectangular courtyard, on top of a two-tiered stone platform. This two-tiered platform is lined with detailed balustrades and is decorated with numerous sculptures depicting imaginary and real animals, such as dragons and phoenixes. The stone-paved courtyard is lined with two rows of rank stones, indicating where the court officials are to stand according to their ranks. The whole courtyard is fully enclosed by wooden cloisters.

Geunjeongmun is aligned and located directly to the south of Geunjeongjeon. It is also the main gate to the courtyard and to Geunjeongjeon. The gate is divided into three separate aisles, and only the king was allowed to walk through the center.

Gyeongbokgung Palace
Inside the Geunjeongjeon Hall will look like this. I love the ceiling, full of colourful traditional pattern. Please do not ask me what the function of every single things in her to mee, hahaha.. I have no idea. I did not have a local guide when I visited this place.

4. Gyeonghoeru

Gyeonghoeru , also known as Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, is a hall used to hold important and special state banquets during the Joseon Dynasty.  The first Gyeonghoeru was constructed in 1412,  but was burned down during the Japanese invasions of Korea in 1592.

Gyeongbokgung Palace
The present building was constructed in 1867 on an island of an artificial, rectangular lake that is 128 m wide and 113 m across.

Constructed mainly of wood and stone, Gyeonghoeru has a form where the wooden structure of the building sits on top of 48 massive stone pillars, with wooden stairs connecting the second floor to the first floor. The outer perimeters of Gyeonghoeru are supported by square pillars while the inner columns are cylindrical.

5. Gyotaejeon Hall

Gyotaejeon Hall is a building used as the main residing quarters by the queen during the Joseon Dynasty. The building is located behind Gangnyeongjeon, the king’s quarters, and contains the queen’s bed chamber. It was first constructed in around 1440.

Gyotaejeon Hall in Gyeongbokgung Palace
Actually, behind this hall there is a famous garden created from an artificial mound namely Amisan.

The building was burned down in 1592 when the Japanese invaded Korea, but was reconstructed in 1867. The current building was reconstructed in 1994 according to its original design and specifications.

6. Sajeongjeon Hall

Sajeongjeon Hall is a building used as the main executive office by the king during the Joseon Dynasty. Located behind Geunjeongjeon Hall, the king carried out his executive duties and held meetings with the top government officials in Sajeongjeon.

Sajeongjeon in
The king usually carried out his executive duties and held meetings with the top government officials in here.

7. Donggung

Donggung, located south of the Hyangwonjeong pavilion, was the compound where the crown prince and his wife were living. Dongdung was razed to the ground during the Japanese occupation. The restoration started in 1999, only Jaseondang and Bihyeongak were restored.

Donggung in Gyeongbokgung Palace
Behind me, it is a building where the compound where the crown prince and his wife were living in the past.
Donggung in Gyeongbokgung Palace
Trying to be like a woman wearing traditional clothes in this old building.

 – – –

Well, that are some building which captured with my camera. Honestly, I did not visited every single buildings because they look like similar, haha. There are some buildings such as Hyangwonjeong Pavilion, Jagyeongjeon Hall, Jibokjae, and Governor-General’s Residence, etc, that I could not explain in here. I have no enough photos and information about that. On other hand, I can share to you some photos that are look like very famous and photoable but I forgot what are the name of these building/spot, hehe.

Have no idea about this pillar. But every guides explain about this pillar to their visitors. Unluckily, they all explained not in English. 
Gyeongbokgung Palace
Behind me, there is a gate when you walk from Gwanghamun to Geunjeongjeon Hall.
Gyeongbogung Palace
The National Folk Museum is behind this building
Gyeongbokgung Palace
There are a lot of mini gates/doors like this which are very photoable. Just take some photos, so you put a memory inside the photos.
Gyeongbokgung Palace
I do not know what it is. But it looks like traditional folk housing. I guest, it was servant housing.
Gyengbokgung Palace
Every single spots will be look like this, lol. If you have a tour guide, it will be better, they will explain to you the each function and history of this building.

When you are planning to visit this place, there are some information that should be you knew:

  1. Their operating hours are 09:00 – 18:00 (except Jan – Feb and Nov – Dec they only open until 17:00. They open almost every day, except Tuesday.
  2. Admission for international tourist: Adults (ages 19-64): 3,000 won and Children (ages 7-18): 1,500 won. But FREE, if you are using Korean traditional clothing, hanbok.

If you hope to get an interpreter, they also accommodate their visitors the interpretation services with terms:
Tours depart from in front of the information center at Heungnyemun Gate
A. Duration: About 1 hr-1 hr 30 min
B. Tour Schedule: English: 11:00, 13:30, 15:30, Japanese: 10:00, 12:30, 14:30, Chinese: 10:30, 13:00, 15:00

HIGHLIGHT !!

Changing Gatekeepers Performance

A long time ago, the royal guards of Joseon Dynasty had a task by guarding the Gwanghwamun Gate, the entrance of Gyeongbokgung Palace where the king ruled the country. The re-enactment of the original ceremony was begun from 1996. The gate guardsmen serve their sentry, perform the changing of the guards, and hold a parade. The guards’ uniforms, weapons, and accessories as well as their strict ceremonial procedures catch the eyes of passers-by, especially foreign tourists, when guardsmen perform the changing of guards in traditional costumes at the main gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace in downtown Seoul. Since it is hard to experience traditional events in such a big city like Seoul, citizens and tourist really enjoy and love it. It takes place every day except Tuesday.

Gyeongbokgung Palace Gatekeeper
Gatekeepers always stand in front of the main gate during operating hours. They will change and do a performance on schedule like i said above.

Must be highlighted! The Royal Guard-Changing Ceremony is a great opportunity to experience. It is a rare traditional scene in Korea. Be sure to bring a camera to take lots of pictures. The guards’ splendid costumes, with their brilliant primary colours, are a real pleasure to see. If you have some much time to spend in this palace, make sure to visit the palace and enjoy the beauty of Korean palaces following the ceremonies.

Performance times:
Sumunjang (Royal Guard) Changing Ceremony
10:00, 14:00 / 20 minutes per ceremony
Gwanghwamun Gate Guard-on-Duty Performance
11:00, 13:00 / 10 minutes per ceremony
Sumungun (Gatekeeper) Military Training (outside Hyeopsaengmun Gate)
09:35, 13:35 / 15 minutes per ceremony

Gwanghamun Gate
It was a changing gatekeepers performance in Gwanghamun Gate in Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Gwanghamun Gatekeepers Performance
I nearly missed this performance! Luckily, I appeared to this site when the gatekeepers want to go inside the palace (the end of performance).

Additional Events
Sumungun (Gatekeeper) Costume Experience
1. Venue: Sumunjangcheong Building
2. Time: before and after the Guard Changing Ceremony and the Guard-on-Duty Performance (closed on Tuesdays)

That are all the detail informations which I can share to you guys. Hopefully this informations are useful for all of you.

Cheers,

Ria

 

 

 

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