Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Changdeokgung & Changgyeonggung Palaces, Seoul

Reflections in a rain filled cauldron in the Chimjeon (침전 - King's Bedroom House) area of Changdeokgung Palace

A few weekends ago I managed to make it back up to Seoul to visit Minjung's family and get in some time at the dance studio (happy times!). As the day was gorgeous and I had some free time on the Sunday morning in between parting from Minjung (who had an exam - honestly Korea? exams on Sunday? That's just cruel!) and heading back to the dance studio for more class, I decided to check out Changdeokgung (창덕궁) & Changgyeonggung (창경궁), 2 of the Five Grand Joseon Palaces and the only ones I had yet to see.

I wasn't originally planning to give them their own post, but the beauty of the day, combined with the angles of the scenery made me want to share the photos I took! (and I took a lot!). I'd be hard pressed not to consider these two may favourite of the palaces in Seoul.

On the bridge over the (somewhat dry) moat on the way in to Changdeokgung. Geumcheongyo (금천교) Bridge was built in 1411, making it the oldest bridge in Seoul!

Built by King Taejong in 1412 during a time of political infighting (and because he did not wish to live at the main palace, Gyeongbokgung where he'd had his half-brothers killed). Changdeokgung is the best preserved of the Grand palaces, and the only one listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site. While it was initially built in the 15th century, it had to be rebuilt twice in the 17th when it was burnt to the ground - the first time by the Japanese and the second during a political revolt. Like some of the other palaces, Changdeokgung remained a royal seat until the Japanese takeover of 1910 - and it actually remained the residence of Emperor Sunjong, Korea's last Emperor, until his death in 1926. Unlike the other palaces, Changdeokgung has a rather eccentric layout, built in accordance with the principles of Feng Shui to sit in harmony with the surrounding environment, rather than in the typical Korean or Chinese block pattern layout.

The roof tiles on the buildings in the Chijo (치조 - government) section of the Palaces against a brilliant blue sky.

Doors through doors with the Maebong Peak of Bugaksan (mountain) in the background

Moving into the Royal Section of the Palace.
I love that the palaces sit on huge expanses of parkland in the middle of the city. I love even more that entrance to them is so cheap! (Changdeokgung 3,000won, Changgyeonggung 1,000won).

The Throne Room.
Inside the throne room.
It is widely considered to be the most regal looking of the Grand Palace throne rooms.

The House of the King's Bedroom.

In the Qing-style Nakseondae area.
Built during the 19th century, the style of this section makes it look older than the rest of the palace

Changdeokgung is also home to the 'Secret Garden' of Huwon. Home to lotus ponds and a small library/study pavilion, this is supposed to be one of the major highlights of Seoul. Sadly, entrance (10,000won) is only permitted via group tour and, having to get to class, I did not have time to join one!

Surrounded by more trees and hills, Changgyeonggung seems at once more serene and less opulent than it's larger neighbour. 

Sitting to the north-east of Changdeokgung is the smaller Changgyeonggung palace. Originally built in 1418 by king Sejong, all but the main hall (built in 1616) was burnt down and had to be rebuilt twice - first in the Japanese invasion of 1592 and secondly in a fire in 1830. Greener, less reconstructed and more overgrown than the other palaces, Changgyeonggung is in the running to be one of my favourites. It also has some interesting history as it was the location in which King Yeongjo, with the complicity of his wife, lured his somewhat reportedly unstable and cruel son Crown Prince Sado into a reed basket as starved him to death in 1762 in order to ensure that his grandson Prince Jeongjo, and not his son would next inherit. While somewhat cruel (and history has shown possibly the result of political machinations by Sado's enemies), this seems to have proved a wise decision as Jeongjo was one of Korea's most respected rulers.

One of the empress'/concubines' houses. One of the Emperors was born here.

A lunar observatory.

Changgyeonggung roofs! I loved the mix of restored and unrestored areas.

Ancient and modern. With a couple on the steps.

The three-fold path leading  to Honghwamun, the main gate.

The grounds of Changgyeonggung were turned into fair grounds by the invading Japanese in the early 20th century. Interestingly, while the buildings and zoo where eventually torn down after independence, the botanical gardens still stand.

In one of the greenhouses.

While there is something to be said for the majesty of Gyeongbokgung, the serenity of Gyeonghuigung and the colonial structures of Deoksugung. I think that, after all is said and done, the Changdeokgung-Changgyeonggung complex may represent my favourites of the palaces areas. I just love the mix of beautiful gardens, wide open courtyards and restored and unrestored sections!

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