Field Report: Meeting an old friend at Gyeongbokgung, Seoul, South Korea (27 January 2017)

I was feeling quite knackered after my red-eye flight from Manila to Seoul. That said, with the sun high in the sky and the ambient temperature hovering somewhere below freezing (mmm, delicious), I decided that conditions were perfect for a quick visit to an old friend. As one might expect of an anti-social chap like me, the friend in question isn’t a person, but a historic landmark: the sprawling royal palace at the heart of the South Korean capital.

I’ve been to Gyeongbokgung (경복궁) so many times – click here to read about some of my previous visits – that I’ve practically lost count. I can think of a number of reasons why I’ve become something of a regular, but the Korean government’s ongoing long-term reconstruction programme is perhaps one of the main drivers behind my sustained interest. With so many lost buildings for the authorities to excavate, research, rebuild, and reopen, a regular visitor is almost guaranteed to run into a newly resurrected hall or architectural feature every few years or so. Case in point: the reconstructed Joseon-era royal kitchens, which I first noticed several years ago when a temporary enclosure was set up around the then-empty site; the project was finally completed in 2015.

Today’s visit was just a quick hi-and-hello, poking around to see how my old friend Gyeongbokgung was doing – hence this relatively brief report with only a few pictures to share (since I skipped large sections of the compound). If you’d like to see more of the vast palace grounds, the images in my previous posts will help fill in the blanks.

First, I secured a good vantage point in the shadow of Gwanghwamun, the palace’s main gate…

…so that I could properly observe the regular Changing of the Guard, carried out by sentries dressed in meticulously reproduced Joseon-era uniforms.

I was pleased to see the stately Geunjeongjeon throne hall still standing where I’d left it. Then again, as one of the very few Joseon-era palace buildings to have survived intact, I suspect the guards would be extra vigilant about not letting some random thief (unlikely) or arsonist (regrettably more likely, given what happened to Namdaemun) inflict any harm upon this architectural treasure.

The palace’s iconic Gyeonghoeru pavilion is something I usually admire from a distance. You might’ve already seen pictures almost exactly like this in some of my older posts, taken from the edge of the wide moat surrounding the banquet hall.

Interestingly enough, they’d thrown open the normally-closed doors that lead to the three stone bridges spanning Gyeonghoeru’s moat. Access was still restricted – there were barriers (thankfully below camera level) preventing visitors from crossing the bridges – but at least I enjoyed a closer look at the pavilion than the ones I’d previously managed.

I’ve read that there are guided tours of the pavilion from spring to autumn; I’ll need to try booking a spot on one of those for an even better look.

Now I’ve written earlier about the long-term effort to rebuild the many buildings of Gyeongbokgung that were lost in the past hundred years or so, particularly during the wave of demolitions set off in the early 20th century by the Japanese colonial government. Needless to say, any sort of archaeological or construction work on the sprawling grounds is likely to pique my interest, since I’d assume (unless it was obviously for maintenance or repair) that this was part of the reconstruction programme. On a visit in early 2016, I noticed that a large area had been fenced off just north of the palace’s Amisan garden, close to the king and queen’s former living quarters, and a peek through windows in the fence showed a great deal of digging in progress. I suspected then that yet another ruined palace building was due to be resurrected in the not-too-distant future.

Fast-forward to today, almost exactly a year later. The fence was still there, with new information boards set up. All the text was in Korean, much of which I could at least try to read (hangeul being quite easy to learn) yet almost nothing of which I could possibly comprehend (grammar and vocabulary aren’t quite as easy to master as the writing system). Nevertheless, I now had more evidence to back up my earlier suspicions, and could finally put a name to the building they were working on: Heungbokjeon.

In fact, it’s possible to see the foundations of the hall and its surrounding corridors on Google Maps, the imagery on which appears to have been updated just this year. In case you’re reading this post long after initial publication, and there’s something else standing in the middle of the scene, let me describe what’s visible as of this writing: a fenced area with temporary construction facilities erected near the northern edge, and the outlines of what appear to be the stone foundations of a sizeable wooden building.

Not too long from now, this latest addition (or rather re-addition) to the landscape of Gyeongbokgung will become another reason for me to visit the palace yet again.

Cheerio.

One response to “Field Report: Meeting an old friend at Gyeongbokgung, Seoul, South Korea (27 January 2017)

  1. Pingback: Field Report: Reconstruction of Heungbokjeon at Gyeongbokgung, Seoul, South Korea (15 February 2018) | Within striking distance·

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