Gyeongbokgung was the main and largest palace of the Joseon (조선) Dynasty.
Built in 1395, the palace was home to the kings of the Joseon dynasty, their households, and the center of the government. The name of the palace consists of two syllables, gyeong (경) and bok (복). The former means brilliance and the latter means fortune, to emphasize the wish for the dynasty to thrive. However, this palace was destroyed when the Japanese army invaded Korea in 1592, known as the Imjin War (임진왜란) that lasted for six long years. This palace’s ruins remained standing as they were for about 270 years until 1867 when a project for its restoration was started.
Yet, this project was destroyed once again during the period of Japanese occupation in the early twentieth century, when the Japanese built the Government-General Building in the palace’s location. Thus, ever since the 1990s, efforts have resumed to restore much of the previously demolished remains of the site. Gyeongbokgung also contains the National Palace Museum of Korea as well as the National Folk Museum. Mount Bugak (부각산) is situated right behind the palace, and this area used to be the heart of the ancient city of Seoul. The palace was built by King Taejo (태조), the founder of the Joseon Dynasty. However, upon the assassination of Empress Myeongseong (명성) by Japanese agents in 1895, the Joseon Imperial Family never returned to the palace again.
One of the most interesting structures in Gyeongbokgung is the Gyeonghoeru (경회루) Pavilion. This is a large structure surrounded by an artificial pond, rectangular in shape with hills right behind it. It was originally constructed in 1412 under the supervision of King Taejong (태종). The building was used for different state level events. These included royal banquets, reception of foreign envoys, final state examinations, and seasonal religious rituals. Also destroyed in the fire of 1592, this structure was not restored until 1867. The wooden building is constructed on top of forty eight enormous pillars made out of stone. The outer side of the pavilion is supported by square pillars while the inner columns are cylindrical. This represents the sky and earth or in other words, the yin and the yang.
Gwanghwamun – Main gate of Gyeongbokgung
Gwanghwamun (광화문) the main gate of Gyeongbokgung, was eventually destroyed by the Japanese occupation forces leaving only the stone base. The government of South Korea sought to restore the gate under the Park Chung Hee (박정희) administration in 1968. Since the wooden structure had been dismantled earlier, it was replaced by a concrete one. The wooden structure was again restored by August 2010 using pinewood to make it as authentically representative of the Joseon era as possible. The area in front of Gwanghwamun is known as the Gwanghwamun plaza, where at any time of the day it is easy to spot people casually roaming around. This area used to house some of the most important Joseon era government buildings and was the center of politics and economics. You can now see the statues of Admiral Lee Soon Shin (이순신) and King Sejong (세종) in this area.
Cheonggyecheon – Stream of history
Another feature near Gyeongbokgung is Cheonggyecheon (청계천), which is a stream which was first constructed during the Joseon era to help establish a drainage system in the old city. The old name for the stream was Gaecheon (개천) and the new title was only introduced during the period of Japanese occupation. After the Korean War this area saw a lot of settlements springing up as many migrated to Seoul in order to make a living. The stream was covered by a highway and was only restored at the turn of the millennium in 2003, in order to make Seoul appear more natural and environmentally friendly.
This entire area is extremely significant in Korean history. The attempts at restoring and preserving that which was destroyed by invasions is one way in which Koreans can feel a sense of belonging. Please experience the palace area to understand the true Korean identity.