Changdeokgung 창덕궁 and the Secret Garden 후원

With this third palace added to my roster of visited palaces, I have found my favourite palace. While Gyeongbukgung is grand and Deoksugung is stately, I found Changdeokgung to be comfortable, natural, beautiful, and the secret garden in the rear of the palace was an added bonus. The general architectural sense and design of the secondary palace for the king in Seoul is to be balanced with nature. This meant that they kept the natural landscape as it was and built around it, without trying to control it. The idea behind it is just beautiful and those sentiments make for the most beautiful palace I’ve been to. I’d have wanted to live here.

Thanks to A and her friends from school, I was able to go on the two palace tours here with some company. I would probably come back by myself (to see it in a different season) but it was nice being able to explore and learn about the palace with a friend (and some new ones?) We started with the morning English tour of the secret garden 후원, took a lunch break, and then went back for the palace tour.

And so we start with the secret garden… with a walk through a lane made of palace walls on both sides. I love picturesque places like these. The secret garden used to be only for the king and the royal family. Everyone else needed to get permission the grounds. I can see why he would want to keep it to himself.

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The garden and pavilions in the secret garden – it was so magical as it had just started snowing minutes before we arrived here.

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The gate of long life. The idea is that if you pass through this gate, you will never get old. There were a lot of middle aged Asians rushing through here.

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Perhaps my favourite area in the secret garden is this pond that’s meant to shape like the peninsula of Korea that’s surrounded by four pavilions.

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The coolest pavilion I have ever seen – it has a fan-shaped floor. According to the tour guide, it was a really hard structure to make back in the day. Makes sense that the king would have it in his secret garden.

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This was once a waterfall – the mountains that used to provide the water is now gone.

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It was a wonderful tour and I was really excited to learn more about the palace. And so, less than two hours later, we were back. For those interested, you can leave the palace after entering, but you need to tell the guard at the gate before you leave so he can give you something to come back in without paying for admission again.

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I love the enclosed palaces and the long courtyards.

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This is the main building where the official state matters were conducted by the king. All the stones along the courtyard are for the standing orders by ranking.

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The Queen’s living quarters in this palace had a significant meaning. Even the name of the quarters indicates that it is a place for the birth of the crown prince. Lots of pressure on the woman to give her nation the next king.

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In the sideyard of the living quarters is a garden with a gate called “Beautiful Spring/Blossom Gate.” Our tour guide didn’t take us through here but suggested that we come back in the spring if we wish to see it at its most beautiful.

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The front of the living quarters was modified as this palace was used by the last kings of Korea – it was modified for his vehicle. Just one of many signs of western modernizations in the palace.

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The last members of the royal family lived in these buildings. I loved the contrast between the colourful Korean palace buildings and these simpler but still beautiful buildings.

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Without a doubt, my favourite palace. And I had always intended to come to Changdeokgung in the autumn (when it’s said to be the most beautiful) but it was still beautiful and magical with the snowfall. I think this is the palace I’m going to recommend to people if they only have time for one palace while in Seoul. While, Gyeongbukgung seems to be the representative palace in Seoul, I much prefer the charms of Changdeokgung.

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