On my first morning in Seoul, South Korea, Jon and I headed for Gyeongbokgung — the largest palace in Seoul and recommended to us by a friend. This was my first visit to East Asia and I was beyond excited to explore.
When we booked the tickets, I don’t think Jon or I anticipated how cold it would be in Seoul so let me be clear: it was cold. Since we were on the way to New Zealand (where it was the dead of beach season), I wasn’t totally mentally prepared for the level of cold (and wind!!) we faced each day. I brought many layers (though I only wore two pairs of pants each day…one less than Jon’s mom while in Ireland).
Jon switched to a hat that covered his ears about 10 seconds after this picture was taken.
On our tour of Gyeongbokgung, which means Greatly Blessed by Heaven Palace, Jon and I decided to head to the back and work our way back up instead of going through in the order suggested in our brochure (which is quoted later in this post). This made it more difficult to identify the buildings we were looking at, but also made it feel more like we were the only ones around.
Hyangwonjeong: note the frozen pond. The name means Pavilion of Far-reaching Fragrance.
Here’s a fun fact: The first power station in Korea was built near this pond to light the palace at night. It was both powered and cooled by the pond water, making electricity known as water light.
Behind the pavilion lies Geoncheonggung, the palace-within-the-palace where Queen Myeongseong was assassinated in 1895 by the Japanese.
Gyeongbokgung has been destroyed twice: at the end of the 16th century during the Japanese invasion and again in the 19th century during the Japanese occupation. Restoration and rebuilding efforts have been underway since 1990. Which leads me to wonder: is this original or made to look kind of old?
We also learned that many of the buildings in the palace were raised to accomodate ondol heating, a traditional Korean underfloor heating mechanism.
At this point, I think I was beginning to lose feeling in my fingers. A break for tea was necessary.
We stopped in the gift shop and sampled two varieties: Chrysanthemum and Citron with Honey.
Jagyeongjeon: the queen dowager’s residence had Jon’s favorite name — Jagyeong means Wish for Much Happiness for Senior Royal Ladies. Built in 1888, this complex is the only residence that dates to the Joseon period.
As you know, I love it when places officially editorialize, so I loved the description of this wall: “The west wall is decorated with engraved designs symbolizing longevity and various flowering trees, making it perhaps the most beautiful wall in the palace.”
Ten Longevity Chimney: here again — “For its beauty and outstanding function, it is recognized as the finest of all chimneys built during the Joseon period.”
The Gyeonghoeru Pavilion had my two favorite stories attached to it.
(1) A fence once surrounded the [frozen] pond and no one was permitted to enter this area freely. Gu Jong-jik snuck in and came face-to-face with King Sejong. He immediately confessed to the king that he was an official of the lowest class (9) and had only snuck in to see the pavilion’s beauty. “Believing that he was a man of refined tastes, the king ordered him to recite a poem: Spring and Autumn Annals, a Chinese classic. The next day, the king promoted the man to the rank of 5.”
(2) The Legend of the Skirt Rock (Chima-bawi): King Jungjong had to divorce his wife because her family was related to the king’s ousted half-brother. From the pavilion, the king could see her new house. “Having heard that the king still missed her, she placed a pink skirt she had worn in the palace on a rock on Inwangsan [mountain] to catch the king’s attention. The sight of the skirt comforted Jungjong’s broken heart.”
Geunjeongjeon: the main throne hall of the palace — the name means All Affairs Will Be Properly Managed If Your Majesty Demonstrate Diligence.
By the time we made it back to the beginning I was freezing and it was beginning to be more crowded. (1) You know I’m cold once the hood goes up. (2) Jon in a more sensible hat.