Gyeongbokgung

Gyeongbokgung, also known as Gyeongbokgung Palace or Gyeongbok Palace, is a royal palace located in northern Seoul, South Korea. First constructed in 1394 and reconstructed in 1867, it was the main and largest palace of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty. The name of the palace, Gyeongbokgung, translates in English as "Palace of Shining Happiness."

Nearly destroyed by the Japanese government in the early 20th century, the walled palace complex is slowly being restored to its original form prior the destruction. As of 2009, roughly 40 percent of the original number of palace buildings still stand or are reconstructed.

History

The palace was originally constructed in 1394 by King Taejo, the first king and the founder of the Joseon Dynasty, and the name Gyeongbokgung was conceived by an influential government minister named Jeong Dojeon. Gyeongbokgung was continuously expanded during the reign of King Taejong and King Sejong the Great, but the majority of the palace was burnt down during the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592–1598). The palace site was left in ruins for the next three centuries.

During the regency of Daewongun in 1867, the palace buildings were reconstructed and formed a massive complex with 330 buildings and 5,792 rooms. Standing on 4,414,000 square feet (410,000 square meters) of land, it was an iconic symbol for both the Korean nation and the Korean royal family. In 1895, after the assassination of Empress Myeongseong by Japanese agents, her husband, Emperor Gojong left the palace; since then, the Imperial family never returned to Gyeongbokgung.

Starting from 1911, the Japanese government systemically demolished all but 10 buildings during the Japanese occupation of Korea and ultimately constructed the Japanese General Government Building for the Governor-General of Korea in front of the throne hall, Geunjeongjeon, in order to eradicate the symbol and heritage of the Joseon Dynasty. Gwanghwamun Gate, the main and south gate of Gyeongbokgung, was relocated by the Japanese to the east of the palace, and its wooden structure was completely destroyed during the Korean War.

Gyeongbokgung's original 19th century palace buildings that survived both the Japanese occupation of Korea and the Korean War include Geunjeongjeon the Imperial Throne Hall (National Treasure No. 223), Hyangwonjeong Pavilion, Jagyeongjeon Hall, Jibokjae Hall, Sajeongjeon Hall, Sujeongjeon Hall, and Gyeonghoeru Pavilion (National Treasure No. 224). Modern archaeological surveys have brought 330 building foundations to light.

The Korean government started a 40-year initiative in 1989 to rebuild the structures that were destroyed by the Japanese government during the period of Japanese occupation of Korea.

In 1995, the Japanese General Government Building, after many controversial debates about its fate, was demolished by the South Korean government in order to reconstruct Heungnyemun Gate and its cloisters.

Today the palace is open to the public, and houses the National Folk Museum of Korea and the National Palace Museum of Korea. The National Museum of Korea, also previously located in the palace grounds, was relocated to Yongsan-gu in 2005.

By the end of 2009, it is estimated that approximately 40 percent of the structures that were standing before the Japanese occupation of Korea will be restored or reconstructed. As a part of the phase 5 of the Gyeongbokgung restoration initiative, Gwanghwamun, the main gate to the palace, was restored to its original design. Another 20 year restoration project is planned by the South Korean government to restore Gyeongbokgung to its former status.

Layout
Main Gates
  • Gwanghwamun (The Main and South Gate)
  • Heungnyemun (The Second Inner Gate)
  • Geunjeongmun (The Third Inner Gate)
  • Sinmumun (The North Gate)
  • Geonchunmun (The East Gate)
  • Yeongchumun (The West Gate)
Oejeon (Outer Court)
  • Geunjeongmun (The Third Inner Gate)
  • Geunjeongjeon (The Throne Hall)
  • Sajeongjeon (The Executive Office)
  • Sujeongjeon
  • Cheonchujeon
  • Manchunjeon
Naejeon (Inner Court)
  • Gangnyeongjeon (The King's Quarters)
  • Gyotaejeon (The Queen's Quarters)
  • Jagyeongjeon (The Late Queen's Quarters)
Donggung (Palace of the Crown Prince)
  • Jaseondang (The Crown Prince's and Princesses' Quarters)
  • Bihyeongak (The Study of the Crown Prince)
Pavilions
  • Gyeonghoeru (The Royal Banquet Hall)
  • Hyangwonjeong
Bridges
  • Yeongjegyo
  • Chwihyanggyo
Buildings
Gangnyeongjeon

Gangnyeongjeon (Hangul: 강녕전; Hanja: 康寧殿), also called Gangnyeongjeon Hall, is a building used as the king's main residing quarters. First constructed in 1395, the fourth year of King Taejo, the building contains the king's bed chamber. Destroyed during the Japanese invasions of Korea in 1592, the building was rebuilt when Gyeongbokgung was reconstructed in 1867, but it was again burned down by a major fire on November, 1876 and had to be restored in 1888 following the orders of King Gojong.

However, when Huijeongdang of Changdeokgung Palace was burned down by a fire in 1917, the Japanese government dismembered the building and used its construction materials to restore Huijeongdang in 1920. Current Gangnyeongjeon was built in 1994, meticulously restoring the building to its original specifications and design.

Gangnyeongjeon consists of corridors and fourteen rectangular chambers, each seven chambers located to the left and right side of the building in a layout out like a checkerboard. The king used the central chamber while the court attendants occupied the remaining side chambers to protect, assist, and to receive orders. The building rests on top of a tall stone foundation, and a stone deck or veranda is located in front of the building.

The noted feature of the building is an absence of a top white roof ridge called yongmaru (Hangul: 용마루) in Korean. Many theories exist to explain the absence, of which a prominent one states that, since the king was symbolized as the dragon during the Joseon Dynasty, the yongmaru, which contains the letter dragon or yong (龍), cannot rest on top of the king when he is asleep.

Geunjeongjeon

Geunjeongjeon (Hangul: 근정전; Hanja: 勤政殿), also known as Geunjeongjeon Hall, is the throne hall where the king formally granted audiences to his officials, gave declarations of national importance, and greeted foreign envoys and ambassadors during the Joseon Dynasty. The building was designated as Korea's National Treasure No. 223 on January 8, 1985.

Geunjeongjeon was originally constructed in 1395 during the reign of King Taejo, but was burned down in 1592 when the Japanese invaded Korea. The present building was built in 1867 when Gyeongbokgung was being reconstructed. The name Geunjeongjeon, created by the minister Jeong Dojeon, means "diligence helps governance."

Constructed mainly of wood, Geunjeongjeon sits on the center of a large rectangular courtyard, on top of a two-tiered stone platform. This two-tiered platform is lined with detailed balustrades and is decorated with numerous sculptures depicting imaginary and real animals, such as dragons and phoenixes. The stone-paved courtyard is lined with two rows of rank stones, called pumgyeseoks (Hangul: 품계석; Hanja: 品階石), indicating where the court officials are to stand according to their ranks. The whole courtyard is fully enclosed by wooden cloisters.

Geunjeongmun (Hangul: 근정문; Hanja: 勤政門), aligned and located directly to the south of Geunjeongjeon, is the main gate to the courtyard and to Geunjeongjeon. The gate is divided into three separate aisles, and only the king was allowed to walk through the center.

Gwanghwamun

Gwanghwamun (Hangul: 광화문; Hanja: 光化門) is the main gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace.

Gyeonghoeru

Gyeonghoeru (Hangul: 경회루; Hanja: 慶會樓), also known as Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, is a hall used to hold important and special state banquets during the Joseon Dynasty. It is registered as Korea's National Treasure No. 224 on January 8, 1985.

The first Gyeonghoeru was constructed in 1412, the 12th year of the reign of King Taejong, but was burned down during the Japanese invasions of Korea in 1592. The present building was constructed in 1867 (the 4th year of the reign of King Gojong) on an island of an artificial, rectangular lake that is 128 m wide and 113 m across.

Constructed mainly of wood and stone, Gyeonghoeru has a form where the wooden structure of the building sits on top of 48 massive stone pillars, with wooden stairs connecting the second floor to the first floor. The outer perimeters of Gyeonghoeru are supported by square pillars while the inner columns are cylindrical; they were placed thus to represent the idea of Yin & Yang. When Gyeonghoeru was originally built in 1412, these stone pillars were decorated with sculptures depicting dragons rising to the sky, but these details were not reproduced when the building was rebuilt in the 19th century. Three stone bridges connect the building to the palace grounds, and corners of the balustrades around the island are decorated with sculptures depicting twelve Zodiac animals.

Gyeonghoeru is represented on the 10,000 won Korean banknotes (1983-2002 Series).

Gyotaejeon

Gyotaejeon (Hangul: 교태전; Hanja: 交泰殿), also called Gyotaejeon Hall, is a building used as the main residing quarters by the queen during the Joseon Dynasty. The building is located behind Gangnyeongjeon, the king's quarters, and contains the queen's bed chamber. It was first constructed in around 1440, the 22nd year of King Sejong the Great.

King Sejong, who was noted to have a frail health later in his reign, decided to carry out his executive duties in Gangnyeongjeon, where his bed chamber is located, instead of Sajeongjeon. Since this decision meant many government officials routinely needed to visit and intrude Gangnyeongjeon, King Sejong had Gyotaejeon built in consideration of his wife the queen's privacy.

The building was burned down in 1592 when the Japanese invaded Korea, but was reconstructed in 1867. Nevertheless, when Daejojeon of Changdeokgung Palace was burned down by a fire in 1917, the Japanese government disassembled the building and recycled its construction materials to restore Daejojeon. The current building was reconstructed in 1994 according to its original design and specifications. The building, like Gangnyeongjeon, does not have a top roof ridge called yongmaru.

Amisan (Hangul: 아미산; Hanja: 峨嵋山), a famous garden created from an artificial mound, is located behind Gyotaejeon. Four hexagonal chimneys, constructed around 1869 in orange bricks and decorative roof tiles, adorn Amisan without showing their utilitarian function and are notable examples of formative art created during the Joseon Dynasty. The chimneys were registered as Korea's Treasure No. 811 on January 8, 1985.

Hyangwonjeong

Hyangwonjeong (Hangul: 향원정; Hanja: 香遠亭), or Hyangwonjeong Pavilion, is a small, two-story hexagonal pavilion built around 1873 by the order of King Gojong when Geoncheonggung residence was built to the north within Gyeongbokgung.

The pavilion was constructed on an artificial island of a lake named Hyangwonji (Hangul: 향원지; Hanja: 香遠池), and a bridge named Chwihyanggyo (Hangul: 취향교; Hanja: 醉香橋) connects it to the palace grounds. The name Hyangwonjeong loosely translates as "Pavilion of Far-Reaching Fragrance," while Chwihyanggyo translates as "Bridge Intoxicated with Fragrance."

The bridge Chwihyanggyo was originally located on the north side of the island and was the longest bridge constructed purely of wood during the Joseon Dynasty; however, it was destroyed during the Korean War. The bridge was reconstructed in its present form on the south side of the island in 1953.

Jagyeongjeon

Jagyeongjeon (Hangul: 자경전; Hanja: 慈慶殿), also called Jagyeongjeon Hall, is a building used as the main sleeping and living quarters by Queen Sinjeong (Hangul: 신정왕후; Hanja: 神貞王后), the mother of King Heonjong. First constructed in 1865, it was burned down twice by a fire but was reconstructed in 1888. Jagyeongjeon is the only royal residing quarters in Gyeongbokgung that survived the demolition campaigns of the Japanese government during the Japanese occupation of Korea.

The chimneys of Jagyeongjeon are decorated with ten signs of longevity to wish for a long life for the late queen, while the west walls of the Jagyeongjeon compound are adorned with floral designs. The protruding southeast part of Jagyeongjeon, named Cheongwonru (Hangul: 청원루; Hanja: 淸燕樓), is designed to provide a cooler space during the summer, while the northwest part of Jagyeongjeon, named Bokandang (Hangul: 복안당; Hanja: 福安堂), is designed for the winter months. The eastern part of Jagyeogjeon, named Hyeopgyeongdang (Hangul: 협경당; Hanja: 協慶堂) and distinguished by the building's lower height, was used by the late queen's assistants.

The building and the decorative walls were registered as Korea's Treasure No. 809 on January 8, 1985.

Jibokjae

Jibokjae (Hangul: 집옥재; Hanja: 集玉齋), located next to Geoncheonggung Residence, is a two-story private library used by King Gojong. In 1876, a major fire occurred in Gyeongbokgung Palace, and King Gojong, for a brief period, moved and resided in Changdeokgung Palace. He eventually moved back to Gyeongbokgung in 1888, but he had the pre-existing Jibokjae building disassembled and moved from Changdeokgung to the present location in 1891. Its name, Jibokjae, translates loosely in English as the "Hall of Collecting Jade."

The building uniquely shows heavy influence of Chinese architecture instead of traditional Korean palace architecture. Its side walls were entirely constructed in brick, a method commonly employed by the contemporary Chinese, and its roof formations, interior screens, and columns also show Chinese influences. Its architecture possibly was meant to give it an exotic appearance.

Jibokjae is flanked by Parujeong (Hangul: 팔우정; Hanja: 八隅亭), an octagonal two-story pavilion, to the left and Hyeopgildang (Hangul: 협길당; Hanja: 協吉堂) to the right. Parujeong was constructed to store books, while Hyeopgildang served as a part of Jibokjae. Both of the buildings are internally connected to Jibokjae.

Bohyeondang (Hangul: 보현당; Hanja: 寶賢堂) and Gahoejeong (Hangul: 가회정; Hanja: 嘉會亭), buildings that also formed a library complex to the south of Jibokjae, were demolished by the Japanese government in the early 20th century.

Sajeongjeon

Sajeongjeon (Hangul: 사정전; Hanja: 思政殿), also called Sajeongjeon Hall, is a building used as the main executive office by the king during the Joseon Dynasty. Located behind Geunjeongjeon Hall, the king carried out his executive duties and held meetings with the top government officials in Sajeongjeon. Two separate side buildings, Cheonchujeon (Hangul: 천추전; Hanja: 千秋殿) and Manchunjeon (Hangul: 만춘전; Hanja: 萬春殿), flank the west and east of Sajeongjeon, and while Sajeongjeon is not equipped with a heating system, these buildings are equipped with Ondols for their use in the colder months.

Sujeongjeon

Sujeongjeon (Hangul: 수정전; Hanja: 修政殿), a building located to the south of Gyeonghoeru, was constructed in 1867 and used by the cabinet of the Joseon Dynasty.

Taewonjeon

Taewonjeon (Hangul: 태원전; Hanja: 泰元殿), or Taewonjeon Shrine, is an ancestral shrine originally built in 1868 to house a portrait of King Taejo, the founder of the Joseon Dynasty, and to perform rites to the deceased royalties. Completely destroyed by the Japanese government in the early 20th century, the shrine was accurately restored to its former design in 2005.

Geoncheonggung Residence

Geoncheonggung (Hangul: 건청궁; Hanja: 乾淸宮), also known as Geoncheonggung Residence, was a private royal residence built by King Gojong within the palace grounds in 1873.

King Gojong resided in Geoncheonggung from 1888 and the residence was continuously expanded, but on October 8, 1895, Empress Myeongseong, the wife of King Gojong, was brutally assassinated by the Japanese agents at the residence. Her body was raped and cut, and was burned and buried near the residence.

Haunted by the experiences of the incident, the king left the palace on January, 1896, and never returned to the residence. Demolished completely by the Japanese government in 1909, the residence was accurately reconstructed to its former design and open to the public in 2007.

Governor-General's Residence

The back garden of the palace used to contain the main part of the Governor-General's residence during the Japanese era. With the establishment of the Republic of Korea in 1948, President Syngman Rhee used it as his office and residence. In 1993, after President Kim Young-sam's civilian administration was launched, the Japanese Governor-General's residence in the Cheongwadae compound was dismantled to remove a major symbol of the Japanese colonial occupation.

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