Whilst sharing many architectural features and elements of design, Seoul’s palaces aren’t just cookie-cutter replicas of each other. Every royal residence has its own unique charm, its own particular beauty … and its own long – often painful – history.
After walking past the site of the long-lost Donuimun, I arrived at the brightly painted gate of Gyeonghuigung, perhaps the smallest of Seoul’s five royal palaces.
Beyond this entrance, the ground rose gently towards the top of a low hill, crowned by a walled compound that was guarded by its own regally ornamented gate.
Within the enclosure stood the palace’s throne hall, set upon a platform that elevated it above the surrounding stone-paved courtyard.
If parts of the palace strike you as looking a little fresh and new … well, that’s because they are. In a manner of speaking.
The construction of Gyeonghuigung began in the 1600s during the reign of King Gwanghaegun of Joseon. The palace walls would eventually encompass over a hundred buildings, many of which were lost to two large fires during the 19th century. Those structures that managed to survive – including the main throne hall – were eventually dismantled by the Japanese colonial government, and a school was built upon the vacated site. Reconstruction efforts were initiated about 30 years ago, but by that time Seoul’s unstoppable growth had already encroached upon the former palace grounds, and only a third or so of the compound has been rebuilt thus far.
Right next to the palace complex…
…stands the Seoul Museum of History. Although the architecture looks depressingly dated from the outside…
…inside, this building is a veritable treasure chest of exhibits, models, and artefacts.
And we’re not just talking dusty old pots and broken tiles here. The displays include an assortment of unexpected items like an entire restaurant (complete with graffiti-encrusted walls) and a re-created flat (fully furnished with period appliances), all of which serve to bring the Korean capital’s long history to life for the many visitors who pass through these halls.
Another interesting exhibit is a sprawling scale model of central Seoul, showcasing the marbled congestion of this enormous city in miniature form.
Mm, now that was another great day of sightseeing. After dinner, an evening walk through the streets of Myeongdong, and a non-verbal comedy performance, I turned in for the night and looked forward to my last day in Seoul (well, the last day of this particular visit anyway).
To be continued.