Seoul City Tour ­ Traditional royal palaces and beyond

vviSeoul City Tour ­ Traditional royal palaces and beyond

This week, we went on a Seoul city tour which encompassed 2 palaces, 1 temple and 2 famous cultural streets in Seoul!

First stop: Jogyesa Temple

Jogyesa Temple was a really beautiful sight decorated with many colorful lanterns. These lanterns were hung to commemorate the upcoming Korean public holiday, Buddha’s Birthday. As an appreciation for the donors’, their wishes were written on the lanterns and hung around the temple’s compound.

Many temples in South Korea are located in mountainous areas. Therefore, it is rare of the Jogyesa Temple to be located right near Insadong, a prominent cultural street in the city. It has a long history being founded in 1395, and is one of the most prominent and important Buddhist temple in South Korea. The temple gave me a sense of calmness and tranquility when I entered its premises, and is a stark contrast from the busy and hectic streets in Seoul.

Second stop: Gyeongbokgung Palace

Out of the 5 royal palaces built by the Joseon dynasty in Seoul, the most popular and grandest one ought to be Gyeongbokgung Palace. Built in 1395, it used to be a huge compound with 7700 rooms. However, the colonization of Korea by the Japanese has led to the destruction of most of the rooms. Although the palace has yet to be rebuilt to its original grandeur, its vast and magnificent compound is still a sight to behold. By listening to the explanation of our helpful tour guide, I not only appreciated the beauty of the palace construction but also the intricate meaning behind the various building constructions.

 

Isn’t this gate very grand? Are you able to visualize yourself being a minister riding on a horse and entering the gate of the capital city in the olden days?

As the entrance fee of the 5 royal palaces is free for visitors who wear the hanbok (Korean traditional costume), we got to see many people who don on the beautiful hanboks entering the palace, adding a vibrant feel to the palace.

Shortly after we entered the palace, we gathered at the main gate and watched the changing of guards ceremony. As explained by our guide, the changing of guards ceremony was an important event in the past because the safety and security and the king and the palace was of the utmost importance. It was for the same reason that there were barely any trees planted in the palace’s compound ­ because spies and assassinators may be hiding behind them!

Next up, touring the main palace! A really nice beautiful day with clear skies!

The first building that came into view was the Geunjeongjeon Hall (勤政殿). It was the throne hall where the King greeted his officials (while they stood in line in terms of their ranking) and gave important national declarations. This significant building was designated as Korea’s National Treasure No. 223 on January 8, 1985

There were many carved animal sculptures throughout the palace. This is due to past belief that they could ward off evil and protect the palace.

The King’s throne hall was an impressive sight to behold with the throne chair. It was so meticulously designed that even the ceiling had golden dragons’ sculptures to signify the mightiness and nobleness of the King.

Lots of corners and small “doors” within the Palace.

Gyeonghoeru Pavilion (慶會樓)was the location where the King used to hold state banquets and feasts. It was constructed on a rectangular lake. This scene was extremely breathtaking and picturesque.

Another breathtaking must-see location was the Hyangwonjeong Pavilion (香遠亭). It was a small two storey hexagonal structure, constructed with Chinese influenced design. This was also built near a lake. The bridge connects the pavilion to palace grounds. We were told that the King would sometimes come here for a quiet evening with the concubines.

The structure shown in the picture below was located slightly away from the main palace grounds and was the private library of King. Named as the Jibokjae 集玉齋, which means congregation of the Jade, it signifies how important and precious was, given how important people in the past viewed jade as. Similar to Hyangwonjeong Pavilion (香遠亭), its architecture was greatly influenced with the Chinese.

With that, we ended the morning tour for the Gyeongbokgung Palace. The presidential Blue House came into view when we stepped out of the palace. It was another tourist attraction and was special due to its iconic blue roof tiles. We were informed that blue color signifies professionalism in Korea in the past. Thus the roof tiles of one of the King’s hall where he dealt with country’s matter was also painted blue. Behind the presidential Blue House was a mountain. The Koreans believed in feng shui. Palaces need to be backed by a mountain and need to face water for luck and prosperity.

We then proceeded to have delicious lunch at Myeongdong in this beautifully decorated Korean restaurant.

After lunch, we continued our tour to visit another royal palace – Changdeokgung Palace. This was the second royal palace built after Gyeongbokgung Palace. Its scale is smaller than Gyeongbokgung Palace and there were fewer tourists.

Similarly, for feng shui and good fortune, this palace also has a mountain back and water front.

Injeongjeon Hall was the first building structure that came into view after entering the grounds of Changdeokgung Palace. It was the place where the King conducted major state affairs and received foreign envoys, and was thus the most important building structure of the palace.

On the preserved walkway leading up to the Injeongjeon Hall were stone markers inscribed with the ranks of court officials. This was for the officials to stand in line when they greeted the King. Higher ranked officials stood closer to the King and vice versa.

Pretty scene within the palace.

Daejojeon Hall shown in the picture below was the official residence of the Queen and it was used as a residence for the last empress of the Joseon Dynasty.

This was a building structure built with a distinct difference in the form of architecture and color selection compared to the other palace buildings. However, the tranquility ambience was preserved.

After the afternoon palace tour, we ended the tour with a short visit to the cultural street Insadong and traditional Namdaemun market.

 

Insadong street is lined with stores selling traditional and cultural souvenirs. Like other streets in Seoul, there are also cafes, restaurants and cosmetic stores. In the middle of the road are numerous push carts selling small items or snacks.

The interesting thing about Insadong street is that many stores with English names have lightboxes in Hangul, the Korean alphabet. Perhaps this was intentionally done to preserve the traditional and cultural feel of Insadong street.

Namdaemun traditional market opened in 1964 and is the largest traditional market in South Korea selling traditional goods. Unlike other popular tourist streets like Myeondong and Gangnam, Namdaemun preserved its traditional vibe and many shops here seem to have retained its traditional decoration.

Came across this raw seafood stall in the middle of the street. Kind of cool.

With the guidance of our tour guide, we also visited the pottery market and the flower market located in Namdaemun market. They were a rare eye opener and we would not have discovered them by ourselves if not for our tour guide!

All in all, the Seoul city tour was jam packed with tourist attractions, and it provided me with a glimpse into Seoul major attractions (especially the cultural aspects) in one day.

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Seoul City Tour

 

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