[personal profile] niori_1709
In it, there are the five major palaces. The first of those palaces that I got to visit was Changdeokgung Palace. It's a huge living complex that was built to house the kinds of the Joseon Dynasty, and it's pretty spectacular. Changdeokgung is actually divided into two sections: the palace proper, and the Secret Garden. One article isn't enough to do them justice, so I'll be cutting them into their own separate reviews. This article I'll write about the palace itself, and next the Secret Garden.

Changdeokgung Palace was built as a secondary palace for the Joseon Dynasty in 1405 (under King Taejong). While it began as a second palace, Changdeokgung became the main palace in the aftermath of the Japanese invasion of the 1500s, and stayed so for about 270 years (1868). Changdeokgung is considered a uniquely Korean palace because it was designed in harmony with the area's topography. This was possible because it was built on the base of a mountain, and thus the buildings could be constructed with the geographical features of the natural slopes in mind (in fact, Changdeokgung was built because King Taejong thought the topography of the primary palace wasn't auspicious enough...of course, it might have had something to do with the fact Taejong assassinated his way to the throne, killing his brothers at the very palace he was replacing).

The main gate of Changdeokgung is an imposing structure. Like most other gates I've seen in Korea, it's in the form of a pagoda, and it's a massive. Once inside the gate, there's a small stone bridge in a huge courtyard surrounded by traditional buildings. It's a simple bridge, but Geumcheongyo Bridge is the oldest structure in the palace. Not only that, but it's the oldest stone bridge left in all of Seoul.

This courtyard is also where the Jnseonmun Gate is, and that's where the king would address his subjects. In theory, all subject had to do was bang a special drum to gain an audience with the king, but that rarely managed to happen (many an official, after all, has been self serving and corrupt since politics were invented, and Joseon Dynasty Korea was no exception).

The second area of the palace is what I'd consider the main part. It's big, it's flashy and it's certainly majestic. All of that is because this is where Injeongjeon, the main throne room, is located. The square outside it the building was where all ceremonies and state affairs took place, such as coronations, royal marriages and the receiving of foreign dignitaries. The throne room itself is huge and elaborate, and that's both inside and out. The inside is set up as it would have been during the Joseon Dynasty. There's exquisite, highly symbolic art painted on the walls and beautifully designed furniture. It all screamed royalty, and it was so obvious why a king could sit in that room and think he truly did rule the world. In that atmosphere, who wouldn't?

Off the throne room area, the buildings get a tad simpler (but not by too much). These areas were for the day to day affairs of running the kingdom, living residences for the king, queen and crown prince, and a site for government offices. Seonjeongjeon was officially the work place of the king (of note because it's the only building in the palace with a blue titled roof, though it's not something you notice at first, since you're too busy admiring the rest of the building), but that wasn't big enough for him, so he moved his work station to his bedchamber, Huijepngdang. Once, Huijeongdang was one of the most elegant buildings in the palace, but it was destroyed in a fire (actually, at some point in history, nearly all the palace was destroyed by fire. It is a curse of wooden buildings in countries at war). When it was rebuilt, it was in a simpler, and interestingly more western style.

Another area worthy of note is in the residence of the queen, Heungbokheon building in particualr. This building is interesting not for its look or design, but because of the history that happened in it. This building is where the last cabinet meeting of the Joseon Dynasty was held. This was the building where they deliberated over the Japanese annexation of Joseon Korea. This building was where a tragic moment in Korea's history took place.
The Daejojeon area also has the last king and queen of Korea's bedchamber standing, another final note in Korean history. There's a sadness in this area, were such a vibrant part of Korea came to an end. This was, for all intents and purposes, a place of the last of the Joseon Dynasty, which spanned centuries. It was an ending, and not one that led to better things- the Japanese colonization of Korea was brutal.

The old Seonwonjeon site is the part of the palace where the royal ancestral rites were once performed. Like many Asian cultures, Korea has a great emphasis on honouring your ancestors (a practiced enforced in two of the most historically prominent religions, Buddhism and especially Confucianism). In the time of the Joseon Dynasty, there was great elaborateness in these rituals. This area was the royal shrine of Changdeokgung Palace. Ancestral tablets of dead kings and queens (which were supposed to hold the spirit after death) were housed here for three years, before they were moved to the official royal shrine, and the coffin was displayed in a special hall for five months, before being moved to the official royal tombs. When the yearly ancestral rituals were done, they were done here...at least for a time. This building is called 'old' for a reason. During the Japanese occupation, the shrine was moved deep into the garden area in order to keep it from Japanese eyes (at least as much as possible, and that was a struggle, since Japan was determined to stamp out all traces of the Korean national identity). This place was just left, and eventually it became little more than a ruin that was eventually restored when Changdeokgung was to be opened to the public.

One final area of note it one that proves that not all kings are given to excess. Compared to the rest of the buildings in the palace, Nakseonjae Complex is kind of boring. It's small, pretty plain and lacks any of the beautiful decorations found on other buildings. There's a reason for this. This complex was built very specifically for King Heonjong's use, and he was a man with simple tastes. This was his quarters, and he didn't need it flashy. This was the place where he came to relax, and he didn't want it flashy. When all we expect from royalty is the flamboyant, it's nice when they surprise us with simplicity. For all the rest of the palace was magnificent, this little corner of it was quite refreshing. Out of all the areas of the palace, this was the only one I'd actually want to live in.

Much like the Daejojeon Area, the Nakseonjae Complex is a place where an end came to history. This was where the wife of the last crown prince, Bangja Lee, lived until 1989. The year I was born, another piece of Korean history closed, and this too made me sad.

There was another special feature about my trip to Changdeokgung, which had nothing to do with the palace itself. I visited just as the cherry blossoms came out, and it was beautiful. I'd never really seen cherry blossoms before, and they took my breath away. Some of them were vibrant pink, so pink it was almost too hard to believe that it was a natural colour. Others were such a light pink that they looked white until you got close to them. Others were many shades of pink between those two extremes. Roughly a quarter of the trees on the palace grounds were cherry blossoms in bloom. It added a shine onto the wonderfulness that was Changdeokgung Palace.



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