One of Korea’s “Five Grand Palaces” built by the kings of the Joseon Dynasty sits within a large park in Jongnu-gu, Seoul. It is often referred to as Changdeok Palace as well as the East Palace due to its location. Like the other Five Grand Palaces in Seoul, it was heavily damaged during the Japanese occupation of Korea and only about thirty percent of the original structures remain. Construction of the palace ran from 1405 through it’s completion in 1412. During King Seonjo’s rule from 1567 through 1608 the palace grounds were expanded by almost half a million square meters. Although the palace has been destroyed and rebuilt many times throughout the years, the repairs have always tried to faithfully maintain the beauty of the original design. Changdeokgung Palace was home to the royal court as well as the seat of government until 1872 when the nearby Gyeongbokgung Palace was rebuilt. It was also the home to Korea’s last emperor, Emperor Sunjong, who lived at the palace until his death in 1926.
Today’s Changdeokgung Palace is comprised of thirteen remaining buildings and twenty eight pavilions scattered throughout the gardens. One of the complex’s highlights is the Injeongjoen Hall or main hall, which was used for major state affairs like the coronation of new kings and receiving foreign dignitaries. The main palace gate, Donhwamun, originally built in 1412 and rebuilt after the Japanese invasion of 1592 is the largest of all palace gates and features a magnificent copper bell as well as a two-story pavilion structure. The Seonjeongjeon Hall was used as an office for ruling officials including the king to hold meetings. The Huijeongdang Hall was the king’s living chambers and then became his workplace when it was decided that the Seonjeongjeon was too small for conducting state affairs. The original Huijeongdang structure was destroyed in a fire in 1917 and the reconstructed version is completely different due to recent Western influences. The queen’s official residence, Daejojeon Hall, was used as a residence by the last empress of Joseon and gives an amazing glimpse into the final years of the royal household. It too was destroyed in the 1917 fire but was rebuilt instead using materials taken from Gyeongbokgung and holds more true to its original design.
In 1997 Changdeokgung was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list as an outstanding example of Far Eastern palace architecture and garden design. It is open to visitors every day of the week from April to November except Mondays. Guided and self-guided tours are available, you can even get an English language tour which are available 3 times daily except Thursdays. Children 6 and under, as well as disabled visitors and their helpers receive free admission to Changdeokgung Palace. Children’s admission will usually cost between $1.50 and $7 depending on which tour you choose, adult tickets are usually priced between $3.00 and $14.00. Be sure to check out the Huwon (rear garden), which features a stunning lotus pond, wonderful pavilions and amazingly landscaped lawns and flowers. With over 26,000 trees from a hundred different species throughout the grounds, it is truly a spectacular sight. Another interesting garden area is the Ongnyucheon (Jade Stream) which features a unique u-shaped water channel carved in 1636 as well as a variety of pavilions. With so much natural beauty and its amazing historical architecture, Changdeokgung Palace is a must visit for anyone taking a trip to Seoul.
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