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Korea Revisited: World Heritage in Korea ③ Gyeongbokgung Palace

The Royal Palaces of the Joseon Dynasty -- Gyeongbokgung, Deoksugung, Changdeokgung, and Changgyeonggung -- are must-see attractions for tourists visiting Seoul.

Of the four palaces spread throughout the city center, Gyeongbokgung Palace is arguably the most popular, surrounded by a charming neighborhood brimming with a mix of modern and traditional architecture.

Gyeongbokgung Palace was built two years after King Taejo Yi Seong-gye established the Joseon Dynasty in 1392. The dynasty’s first-ever palace bears the idealistic spirit of its founder through its naming, which translates in English to “Palace of Shining Happiness.”

The main gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace, Gwanghwamun (photo courtesy of the Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation)

You are invited to trace back the achievements of one of Korea’s most beloved rulers to date, King Sejong the Great (1418-1450) as you wander around Gyeongbokgung Palace. The Joseon Dynasty enjoyed an unprecedented golden age of culture and art under King Sejong’s reign.

At the throne hall compound known as Geunjeongjeon Hall, King Sejong granted an audience to his officials and presided over civil service examinations in person to recruit talented individuals.

Built on a pond, Gyeonghoeru Pavilion initially served as a venue for the kings of Joseon to throw feasts for court officials and foreign envoys. However, King Sejong, who cherished the lives of peasants, made the use of it for the sake of the people. Rituals for rain were held in Gyeonghoeru Pavilion during droughts. The king built a small thatched-roof cottage near the pavilion and led his daily life as the people starved from a poor harvest. It is not a coincidence that several royally commissioned technological inventions by prominent scientist Jang Yeong-sil were installed around the pavilion.

Gyeonghoeru Pavilion inside Gyeongbokgung Palace (photo courtesy of the Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation)

Sujeongjeon, situated to the south of the pond with Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, was where the famous royal academy of Jiphyeonjeon, or the Hall of Worthies, was located during the reign of King Sejong. The scholars of Jiphyeonjeon participated in various scholarly endeavors led by King Sejong -- himself a distinguished scholar -- including the creation of the Korean writing system Hangeul, then called Hunmin Jeongeum -- meaning proper phonetic system to educate the people.

Across the main gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace lies Gwanghwamun Square, one of the most frequented landmarks of Seoul, as well as the site of the statue of Sejong the Great. The new square opened in August 2009, after undergoing major refurbishment.

Gwanghwamun Square (Provenance: Korea Tourism Organization, photo courtesy of the Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation)

Also located inside Gyeongbokgung Palace is the National Palace Museum of Korea. Currently on view is the collection of Goryeo Daejanggyeong or the Tripitaka Koreana in celebration of its millennial anniversary.

Through December 18, visitors can experience “the living wisdom of a thousand years,” allegedly the last public display of the Tripitaka Koreana.

Editions of the Tripitaka Koreana on display at the National Palace Museum of Korea (photos courtesy of the National Palace Museum)

Following the showcase of the world’s oldest Buddhist scripture will be a special exhibition of the royal books of the Joseon Dynasty. The ancient books, which were looted by Japan, finally returned back home on December 6, after a century abroad. The exhibition will open to the public on December 27 and run until February 5.

For more information, please visit the official websites:
* Gyeongbokgung Palace: (Korean and English)
* National Palace Museum of Korea: (Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese)

By Hwang Dana Staff Writer

The “Korea Revisited: World Heritage in Korea” series is designed in cooperation with the Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation to shed new light on the UNESCO Treasures in Korea and highlight the foundation’s 2011 World Heritage Visiting Program.


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