Seoul Sojourn, Part 2

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On my second day in Seoul, I visited Gyeongbokgung Palace, the central royal palace of Joseon (Korea’s longest-running dynasty), first constructed in the 14th century. The palace, like most historical buildings in Korea, has been partially destroyed and rebuilt several times. The palace is arranged geometrically, with a series of courtyards aligned in straight succession after the first gate. The palace seems to keep on going and going, courtyard after courtyard, with interesting architecture at every turn. The emptiness of the place is striking, however. In its prime, Gyeongbokgung would have hosted hundreds if not thousands of officials and diplomats, engaged in the daily affairs of the kingdom. It certainly has space enough for them.

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The view of Gwanghwamun, the main gates of Gyeongbokgung Palace, from across the street.

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The first and largest courtyard of Gyeongbokgung.

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Inside the throne room.

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This was a hemispheric sundial, invented in the 15th century and one of the most widely used astronomical devices of the time.

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At Gyeongbokgung, I was able to witness the changing of the guard, which happens regularly throughout the day. It is quite a neat thing to see, with all of the guards dressed in colorful uniforms, marching to music and carrying banners.

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A band playing music for the changing of the guard.

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Gyeongbokgung was burned in the Japanese invasions of Korea in the 16th century and abandoned for three centuries. During this time, the royal court was moved to Changdeokgung Palace, located just next door. I visited Changdeokgung next. Rather than being constructed geometrically like Gyeongbokgung, this palace was built to be in perfect harmony with its environment. The architectural style of Changdeokgung overall is simple and understated, reflecting a Confucian ideology, which by that time had become fully ingrained in the Korean consciousness.

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Entering Changdeokgung Palace.

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The throne room, a part of the palace that is certainly NOT understated.

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At Changdeokgung Palace I was able to go on a tour of Huwon, the secret garden behind the palace that was built for the private use of the king and royal family. For many years not even high officials were allowed to enter so it was neat to be able to see this “forbidden” place. The garden has a sublime, understated beauty and is the site of many small buildings that were built to stand in perfect harmony with their natural surroundings.

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The first section of Huwon, the Secret Garden. The larger building at the back is a royal library.

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The king’s fishing house. The slightly elevated portion standing directly over the pond was for the king to be slightly higher than anyone else in the house.

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An inscription on the gate leading to another section of the garden.

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Aeryeonji, a pond meaning “loving the lotus flower.” A Korean king named Sukjong once said “I love the lotus because it blooms with such clean and beautiful flowers, however dirty the water may be.”

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A solitary lotus flower.

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A house that represents the typical aristocrat’s residence during the Joseon dynasty.

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A seven-hundred-year-old tree—older than the palace itself!

After touring these palaces, it was time to return to Busan. Between Jeju and Seoul, I had had a wonderful week of vacation!

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