[personal profile] niori_1709
Last month, I gave you all a pretty extensive review of Gyeongbokgung Palace, and one of the things I mentioned was that it took a very, very long time to take a tour of the place. I said straight up that it felt impossible to do it all in one afternoon, and I completely hold to that. There was, however, another reason that I found it hard to see the whole palace. That reason was that Gyeongbokgung isn't the only thing to see near the palace, and I had to take some time to see (rush through) them as well. One of those things is a quick look from across the street, and the other two are museums. It's a LOT to do in one day, but it is possible to see the palace, the house, and the two museums in one day...just be prepared to be exhausted by the time you're heading home.

The first of these three things is actually incredibly quick to see. If you go through the north gate of the palace, you'll come to a highly guarded road. Those people are guarding the building across the street, known as Cheongwdae or The Blue House. That house -named for the blue tiles that made up the roof of the white building- is Korea's White House. It's the president's residence. Much like the White House, it is possible to get tours of the Blue House, particularly the beautifully designed gardens. That said, I only managed to see it from a distance when I visited the palace. It's an interesting sight, even if I could only see the roof and a bit of the building below it. It's certainly one of those things you should see if you're already there, especially if you're into politics. Even more than that, I find it such a beautiful bit of symmetry. Side by side lay two different faces of the Korean government. Gyeongbokgung, a symbol of Korea's past where the rulers of the powerful Joseon Dynasty ruled. Just behind it, a building where the leader of a renewed Korea, which rose of them ashes of the devastation of the Korean War, leads. But it's not only those two - before the democratic government moved its elected presidents there, the Blue House was the seat of power first for the Japanese Governor General during the Japanese Occupation, and then for the U.S military led government that came right after WWII. To me, the two of them together represent an interesting juxtaposition regarding Korean history.

Now, onto the museums. The first, and the most memorable, is the National Folk Museum of Korea. The folk museum focuses on traditional Korean culture, using both indoor and outdoor exhibits. Part of it even starts with the building itself. The building is designed to bring together different elements of famous and important temples in Korea. The steps up resemble those of Bulguksa Temple (which I will tell you about one day, I promise!), and they're huge and imposing white stone. It just goes up, and up, and up. The top of the building looks like it's trying to be a massive pagoda, painted in the bright temple colours I've come to love. This is a blown up centre piece from Bubjusa Temple. Either side of the main building reflects two other temples, Geumsansa and Hwaumsa Temple. It's such an interesting (and award winning) way to create a museum dedicated to the traditions of Korea. Buddhism has played a huge role in the development of Korea, and this building is an ode to it in all their forms.

The outside exhibits are a lot of fun because of the way it's set up. Every little section is designed to be a piece of Korea's past, like it was plucked out of time and plunked right down there. There's a replica of a traditional villages, each little section one part of Korea. There's the old traditional buildings, the hanoks I've written about before. In fact, one them is an original house built in 1848 and then moved to the museum in the 1900s. They took the original building and recreated a traditional living area around it. There's recreated shops set up, from food to tailors. It's meant to represent a port city in the 1970s and 80s. That part in particular in interesting, since it's not something you see as much. The focus is generally on creating the distant past, like you see with folk and hanok villages. You don't really see the Korea that's exploding after the Korean War, growing at an astounding rate. In a way, it's even more interesting, because the fact that Korea was able to rise from the devastation at such a rapid rate, is nothing short of mind blowing. They call it the Miracle of the Han River for a reason.

The inside of the museum also brings Korean history to life, but does it by showing artifacts. The history of Korea, from prehistoric to modern times, is the first exhibit room you come to when you enter the museum. I've always loved when museums have an extensive, detailed timeline that plainly lays out the history. While timelines are far from as interesting as artifacts, I've always thought them essential for giving the viewer a baseline of what they're seeing. The timeline begins in the Palaeolithic Age, when fragments of the original Korean people begin to show up in greater numbers. Like in so many places, most of the artifacts have been lost in time, leaving only weapon heads and broken pottery behind (most of which date back to the Bronze Age, which came after). The museum has them in spades, and say what you will about the quality, these are items that have lasted for thousands of years. Some of these simple arrow heads date back to 4, 000 BCE, and that's nothing to scoff at. As we walk through the ages, we come to what many people would consider 'history' (opposed to pre-history). It goes through the main historical periods in Korea, defined by the ruling dynasties of the time. Artifacts -books, art work, pottery, weapons, dress- from the first dynasty of Korea (Gojoseon), through the period of Japanese colonization, until the more modern day, are all on display here. It's not only about the ruling classes either. There's a great focus on the lives of ordinary Koreans as well, which is also something that's refreshing to see. Most of history focuses on those in charge, who did the great or horrible deeds. We sometimes forget that history is about the normal people too, and they all have a story to add. The fact that the museum embraced this was one of the highlights.

Room two and three are both highly related, though they focus on different parts of one whole. It's almost like an indoor version of outside, focusing of village life and the life of those villagers, from birth to death. The first room talks about the life in a normal village. It goes through how a village functioned. There is a season for everything, after all, especially when these villages would mostly revolve around agriculture. The practises of agriculture are the same around the world, with the planting in spring and harvesting in fall, where summer is about growing, and winter about preserving (or making kimchi - a staple of the Korean diet, made of fermented cabbage and red bean paste- in Korea). A lot of these ideas are set up in some way, with a scene playing them out in 3D glory. It's an excellent look into day-to-day life, which leads into the last room. That is about the life of the people themselves. It lays out the major events in a Korean's life. Like in any culture, there are significant events in a person's life, and celebrations to go with them, and Korea is no different. It begins with birth, of course, which is also a Korean's first birthday. In a Confucian influenced society, there was so much importance in education (for boys), and the levels of achievement when it came to that were huge. There were ceremonies for coming of age, marriage, becoming a civil or military official (the jobs basically all Korean families wanted their sons to aspire to and achieve), reaching sixty years old, death, and then performing ancestral rights. Much like the second room, there are displays set up to give you an idea of what these things looked like, and amazingly detailed dioramas as well.

I spent a great deal of time at the National Folk Museum, because it was absolutely fascinating. I loved everything about it, from the display set up to the artifacts themselves. I don't regret spending a minute there, but that did mean I had less time at the second museum on the premises. In order to see it, I really had to rush through the National Palace Museum, and that was a shame.

The National Palace Museum covers exactly what you'd expect from the name. The area of expertise, while covering the general history of Korea, mostly focuses on the history, impact, and existence of the five palaces, Gyeongbokgung in particular. Sadly, it's not as stunningly designed as the National Folk Museum, but the ordinary (if large) exterior doesn't mean the contents aren't just as interesting. There are ten galleries in this museum, though I only got to really see the first four-five, before having to rush through the others in order to see anything before closing time. The first gallery kicks off with the kings of the Joseon dynasty, which obviously makes sense, since the five palaces of Seoul were used by that ruling dynasty. There are artifacts from many of those kings, but the focal point of the room has to be the replica of the kings' throne. It's wide, though not all that tall, and bright red with golden dragons designed on it. It completely screams 'I am the ruler, bow before me!', and a part of me really wished that I could climb on up and see what it felt like to rule. The second gallery is interesting, though the effect is a little less. It focuses on the palaces as a whole, and after you've seen the palaces themselves and learned the history there, it loses it's bang for the buck. That said, there were still some pretty interesting odds and ends located in the building, especially the map deigns on traditional Korean paper and the pieces of design work that had been removed and restored over the years (keep an eye out for any ceiling decorations, because they are some of the most beautifully designed, colourful works of art I've ever seen). The third room is about royal court life, and there's a good deal of individual stories told here. While I might not know who all of them all, hearing about individual royals doing things, made it seem more real. It's not a general idea, but a story. A story always grounds a concept, and that's a good thing when it comes to old fashioned court rules that very few today would even know about.

That brings us to another floor, which I found the most interesting, for a number of reasons. Everyone knows I'm a words kind of girl. Manuscripts, poetry, logs, and even lists, are all things that I adore. I love the written word, and being in a room full of it, regardless if I can read any of it, is an experience of euphoria for me. Gallery four was all about state and ancestral rights, and there were some beautiful scores, books and screens that described, in detail, how to do these rights. It was all in either Chinese or Korean, which means that I couldn't read a word of it, no matter how much I wished to get my hands on it to read and analyze. Knowing the wealth of knowledge and information in those words was right there, but I was unable to access it, was a sad, sad fact. That said, it was an amazing sight, all of it around me. If you're more of a big, physical type of artifact person, the next gallery is for you. It's a bit of a jarring change, but there, all of the sudden, in the middle of the room, is a car straight out of 1940. I'm not much of a car person, but even I know how cool that was. It's something out of a period piece, and you can just picture it driving down the old Korean unpaved roads, open aired and making a lot of noise. It's in the museum because it belonged to the Consort Empress Sunjeong, and it's the oldest surviving car in Korea. On top of that, it's one of the three of this model left in the world. Any auto lovers will enjoy seeing it, if only because it's in wonderful condition and so different than the rest of what you'll see in the museum.
If there's one thing that Korea has always been good at, it's astrology. Korea had an amazing understanding of the heavens, and it's best seen in the science they came up with to study it. Astrological study and the Korean science behind it are the next room. The kings had to study the heavens to make sure they were ruling the way they should be, so it's not surprise that the Joseon kings spent a great deal of time continuing to develop it. It's the celestial charts, both on paper and carved on huge stones, that are the main part of the room. There's one constellation chart, carved into a huge, rectangle black stone, that draws the eye. It always blows my mind, seeing the science people in the past had at their fingertips, even though I know it shouldn't surprise me. The past doesn't mean a lack of science, though the degree of understanding the night sky that Korea showed, is still pretty amazing. The focus on astrology isn't the only science that Korea looked into. In the last room of the museum, there is a look at the other inventions that Korea came up with during the Joseon Dynasty. One of the most famous examples was Jagyeokru, a self-striking water clock. This clock was a big deal, because it let the government and royal court keep time accurately. It was invented under the rule of King Sejong, and it became the national standard time in 1434. The museum has a full scale model of the clock itself, and it looks so simple. It doesn't look as complicated and advanced as it really is. The technology behind it was brilliant, to say the least. It's certainly an example of appearances being deceiving.

The other three rooms revolve around the royal court: the first is the art of the court, the second is the music of the court, and the third is the processions of the court. I've mentioned Korean art again and again, and every time I've gushed about how beautiful it is. It should be of no surprise whatsoever that I would gush even more if I had the space in this review. I will say to pay close attention to the massive screens, because their colours alone make them worthy of a few gasps. Joseon music was all about harmony, so many of the instruments you see on display are ones that were made to accomplish it. My favourite was what I have dubbed an old fashioned xylophone. That's actually a huge simplification, because it's actually sixteen bells hung on a wooden frame, two roles of eight with one on top of the other. The bronze bells were different sizes and thickness, which meant that they made different sounds when struck...just like a modern xylophone. Finally, the royal procession. Full of pomp and circumstance, made to be flashy and show off the wealth and power of the ruler and their family. This was meant to be a grand affair, so it'll surprise no one that the palanquins of the kings were huge, flashy, and possibly a little gaudy in their extravagance. There are two full sized palanquins, one for the king and one for the crown prince. While they're both bright red, with decorations, there's an interesting difference. While the prince's is enclosed, with only small windows letting him see the outside world, the king's was completely open, leaving him exposed to anyone who happened to be there. Given the attempts to assassinate kings through the years, you'd think that it'd be the other way around.

That brings us to the end of our whirlwind tour of the areas around Gyeongbokgung Palace. All three should be seen with the palace, because each of them adds a little bit extra to the history you experience at the palace. Remember- context is always important.



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