Field Report: Gyeonggijeon Shrine, Jeonju, South Korea (25 January 2020)

Under the banner of Joseon, the House of Yi ruled Korea for more than five centuries from the royal capital of Hanseong (present-day Seoul). However, like most Korean families, they maintained a special connection to their ancestral hometown: the city of Jeonju in the southern region of Jeolla. As a mark of reverence for the dynasty’s founder, King Taejo of Joseon (reigned 1392-1398), his successors endowed Jeonju with a grand shrine built to house a formal portrait of the deceased monarch.

Welcome to Gyeonggijeon (경기전).

Our present whereabouts

Before we zero in on Gyeonggijeon itself, let’s have a look at things from a wider perspective.

My visit to the shrine was part of a day trip to Jeonju (전주), the provincial capital of Jeollabuk-do in the southwestern part of Korea.

In terms of land area, Gyeonggijeon is perhaps the largest single attraction within the scenic district known as Jeonju Hanok Village (전주한옥마을, Jeonju Hanok Maeul).

More access/transportation details will be provided in my upcoming post on Jeonju Hanok Village as a whole. For the moment, I’ll mention that the recommended bus stop for accessing Gyeonggijeon is 전동성당.한옥마을 (Jeondong Seongdang – Hanok Maeul, “Jeondong Catholic Church – Hanok Village”). Depending on the origin and direction of your bus, the northern half (i.e., used by southbound buses) of 남부시장 (Nambu Sijang, “Nambu Market”) may also be a convenient jump-off point.

Gyeonggijeon and its grounds

As mentioned earlier, Gyeonggijeon was just one element of my visit to Jeonju, done as a day trip from Suncheon (about an hour south of here by train). I arrived in the morning using a high-speed KTX rail service, spent a few hours enjoying the Hanok Village, then hopped back out in the afternoon.

We’ll have a good long chat about my whole Jeonju day trip in another post. For now, let’s focus on this centrepiece attraction and the historic treasures within its walls.

I began my exploration of the vast, palace-like shrine from its main gate…

…but not before sparing a few moments to read the signboard posted nearby.

Note: To keep things short and sweet, I’ll let the signboards do most of the talking from here on – at least where facts, dates, and figures are concerned. 🙂

3,000 won got me through the monumental front gate, not far from which was a detailed map of the compound. I covered most of the shrine’s key elements by moving in a large anti-clockwise loop, following the small diagram beneath the large site plan.

I crossed the first courtyard, passing through the Hongsalmun ceremonial archway as I walked to the northern side.

The enclosure within the next gate – comprised of an outer courtyard and an inner sanctuary – surrounds the Jeongjeon, the main hall of Gyeonggijeon.

Let’s have a look at the signboard first (for a bit of background information)…

…before we step over the threshold and make our way towards Gyeonggijeon’s inner sanctum, where the ritual portait of King Taejo is enshrined.

Here’s more information about King Taejo’s eojin (royal portrait), courtesy of a signboard set up near the innermost courtyard.

From here, I walked through a side gate and exited the Jeongjeon compound, entering another enclosure immediately to the east.

Within this open space sits a single wooden building, its main floor raised off the ground by means of large wooden pillars. Known as the Jeonju Sago, this hall – or rather the original hall of which this is a modern replica – was one of several designed to serve as repositories for the Kingdom of Joseon’s dynastic annals.

I continued north to the rear of the compound, passing the locked gates of Jogyeongmyo. This secondary shrine was originally built in the 18th century to honour the founder of the Jeonju Yi (or Lee) clan, of whom King Taejo was supposedly a 21st-generation descendant.

To the west of Jogyeongmyo is the Royal Portrait Museum. As the name suggests, this modern exhibition hall – which has the outward form of a Joseon-era wooden building – houses a collection of royal portraits, as well as artefacts related to the enshrinement ceremony held long ago when the eojin of King Taejo was solemnly installed at Gyeonggijeon.

Continuing on my anti-clockwise course, I began to move southwards towards the main gate, walking next to a low stone wall capped with black tiles.

The wall surrounds the so-called “Annexe of Gyeonggijeon”, consisting of various buildings used by the officials who assisted at the ancestral rites held in the shrine.

Might I suggest rewording the English caption in the following sign to “Mind your head”? 🙂

Moments later, I left the serene precincts of Gyeonggijeon and rejoined the bustling, tourist-choked streets of the Jeonju Hanok Village outside the walls…

…but let’s save the rest of my visit for another time and another post.

Till then, cheerio.

3 responses to “Field Report: Gyeonggijeon Shrine, Jeonju, South Korea (25 January 2020)

  1. I really, really loved Jeonju. My friend and I spend half-day exploring the Hanok village and Gyeonggijeon and we were very impressed. 🙂 Great piece and pictures by the way.

    • Thanks for the comment. I had a great time there as well – shame I didn’t stay longer (this was just on a very brief side trip out of Suncheon). But I certainly saw enough to lure me back for a return visit at some point, maybe one or two nights to give Jeonju its due. Hopefully the old Joseon era compound of the Jeolla Gamyeong will be fully or at least substantially reconstructed by then; during this visit it was still walled off and inaccessible.


  2. Pingback: Field Report: A Quick Peek at Jeonju Hanok Village, South Korea (25 January 2020) | Within striking distance·

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