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Gyeongbokgung Palace Gwanghwamun Plaza
5. Trip to South Korea

Gyeongbokgung Palace & Gwanghwamun Plaza, Seoul, South Korea

Trip to South Korea – Part 6: Jewel Of The Palace

The Gyeongbokgung Palace & Gwanghwamun Plaza are located in central Seoul, and a popular spot for locals and tourists alike.

Gwanghwamun Plaza

Gwanghwamun Plaza – often referred to as Gwanghwamun Square – is easily accessible since the main subway station lies directly underneath it.

Two huge statues stand over seeing the plaza as if keeping watch over everyone passing by.

Gwanghwamun Plaza

Firstly, there is a statue of King Sejong sitting on his throne placed on top of a massive pedestal. King Sejong – or Sejong the Great – is best remembered for his invention of Hangul, the written Korean alphabet used today. [A/N: Anyone learning the Korean written language will have undoubtedly come across this name before.]

However, the 15th century Korean monarch is also considered to have been involved in the promotion of agriculture, literature, science and technology.

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Gwanghwamun Plaza

Secondly, there is a statue dedicated to Admiral Yi Sun-Sin, a 16th century Korean war hero. [A/N: K-drama buffs interested in historical dramas might recognize this name, since they tend to make frequent mention of it.]

Towards one end of the plaza one can already see from afar the massive main entrance into the Gyeongbokgung Palace, known as Gwanghwamun Gate.

Gyeongbokgung Palace & Gwanghwamun Plaza

A busy multiple-lane road separates Gwanghwamun Gate, the palace and the impressive wall surrounding it from the plaza.

Gyeongbokgung Palace & Gwanghwamun Plaza

For the better part of each day, one can find several guards dressed in traditional royal garb standing guard in front of the gate.

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyeonbokgung Palace
What is a palace visit without a history lesson, right? So here you go.
Gwanghwamun Plaza

While walking through the gates, don’t forget to look up and admire the meaningful paintings and drawings on the ceilings.

Gyeongbokgung Palace & Gwanghwamun Plaza

In a Russian Doll sort of way, the king’s quarters are located at the innermost center of the palace grounds. Several sturdy walls form each layer around his throne room and can only be accessed through these big inner gates.

In the past, each gate would be heavily guarded by the Royal Guards and might even be kept closed the majority of the time.

Gyeongbokgung Palace & Gwanghwamun Plaza

This close-up of one of the multiple gates showes the intricate architecture and colourful designs on it. Any reconstruction over the years has been made using the same materials used originally wherever possible.

Gyeongbokgung Palace & Gwanghwamun Plaza

Detailed maps located inside the grounds are a great help for all visitors to not loose their way around the massive palace complex. In addition, English tours are available throughout most of the day. We personally were very pleased with our nice guide, her knowledge of the place, and the pace at which she proceeded throughout the tour.

Gyeongbokgung Palace & Gwanghwamun Plaza

The King’s tea pavilion situated in the middle of a pond. Although closed off for public access, close-ups are not possible but this does not diminish its serene beauty.

[A/N: The Coex Aquarium has a miniature replica of this pavilion on display.]

Gyeongbokgung Palace & Gwanghwamun Plaza

The Queen and Queen Dowager (Mother of the king) would each reside in their own separate quarters towards the back of the palace grounds. For added protection and privacy, their residences were enclosed with a lower wall, some of which doubled as the outside walls of a building.

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Gyeongbokgung Palace & Gwanghwamun Plaza

This small metal door allows for a fire to be build underneath the building inside its stone base. This will in turn provide floor heating to the rooms above. Underground tunnels leading to chimneys away from the building would make sure the smoke could escape safely.

[A/N: Although obviously upgraded to a more modernized version, floor heating systems are still a common thing in Korean homes.]

Chimneys

Most of the buildings found today within the Gyeongbokgung Palace grounds had to be reconstructed since having been destroyed by enemies in the past. These hexagon shaped chimney towers are some of the few original structures still standing.

Gyeongbokgung Palace & Gwanghwamun Plaza

A Two-story pavilion used in the past for huge parties hosted by the king.

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Walking among these old historical buildings truly makes one feel transported into another world. Specially if you’re into Korean historical dramas, this place makes you expect one of these drama characters to appear at any moment.

Maybe this is where one could meet our favourite Woodalchi General, Choi Young [Drama The Great Doctor], or Crown Prince/King Lee Hwon [Drama Moon embracing the sun].

  • Gyeonbokgung Palace
  • Gyeonbokgung Palace
  • Gyeonbokgung Palace
  • Gyeonbokgung Palace
  • Gyeonbokgung Palace
  • Gyeonbokgung Palace
  • Gyeonbokgung Palace
  • Gyeonbokgung Palace
  • Gyeonbokgung Palace
  • Gyeonbokgung Palace

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An inside look at some rooms complete with a traditional table set-up.

  • Gyeonbokgung Palace
  • Gyeonbokgung Palace

Below are some close-ups of the kings throne room and seat. Even after all this time the opulence and magnificence of the room is obvious. As a result, one can easily imagine the impression this room must have made on people in the past upon setting their eyes on it for the first time.

  • Gyeonbokgung Palace
  • Gyeonbokgung Palace
  • Gyeonbokgung Palace
  • Gyeonbokgung Palace
  • Gyeonbokgung Palace

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Gyeonbokgung Palace

Nearby rental shops provide the opportunity to dress up in historical costumes when visiting the palace grounds. One can generally also expect a discount or sometimes even free entry into the place when wearing traditional Korean clothing.

Gyeonbokgung Palace

During the Joseon Dynasty, Royal Guards were responsible for guarding the palace gates and protecting the King while he resided at Gyeongbokgung. Twice each day, staff will reenact the ‘Changing of the Royal Guard’ ceremony. As the name suggests, this event depicts the protocol these guards had to follow as a new unit took over their posts.

We recommend looking online beforehand to ensure you get to experience this ceremony as it is a sight to behold.

Gyeonbokgung Palace

Only after gaining access through several gates one would get to enter the innermost patio. This is the location of the kings residence. While his living chambers are towards the rear of the building, the throne hall is at the front. Here the king would give an audience to anyone considered worthy of his time.

Final advice: Allow yourself plenty of time for this adventure. Exploring the extensive Gyeongbokgung Palace grounds can easily take a few hours, and is not something you’ll want to rush through.

Cee and R.

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