I have now been to Gyeongbokgung five times in total. Not counting all the times that I was just outside the palace, bringing some reluctant friends to check out the gates at least. My first time was with the friends I first made in Korea through orientation. Twice was for the tea ceremonies which I highly recommend as a cultural experience for anyone. The fourth time was with a friend who came to Korea for a trip. The fifth time was a solo trip where I finally partook in the free guided tours offered every day. I learned early on through the tours of the other palaces how much more meaningful the palace visits can be when you’re learning about it. These are a few things that I got from my fifth (and last?) time at Gyeongbokgung.
– I always introduced Gyeongbokgung to my visiting friends as the main palace and that’s the reason for its heavy tourist traffic. There are always hordes of tour groups at the palace. But what the tour guide told us in a very matter-of-fact way was that the reason this particular palace is so popular – it’s the only one with parking for the tour buses. Gyeongbokgung was the main palace but not necessarily the one you have to visit in order to get your palace experience in the city.
– The palace buildings as they are now is only about 25% of the original palace grounds. The city is slowly rebuilding the buildings and by 2030, they hope to have rebuilt 75% of the palace.
– Many of the palace buildings have been moved to other palaces during its destruction through the many wars – the Japanese invasion and the Korean War.
– Hangul was created at this palace by King Sejong the Great.
– The pathways are divided into three. The center for only the King, anyone else who dares to walk along this path would be heavily punished (hit 80 times). The right path is for the scholars and the left for the military. Like the other Asian countries, education was viewed higher than the military.
– The main courtyard is covered in slabs of rock that are uneven. I had once thought that this was quite dangerous and you could trip easily. But the reason it was designed and put together this way is quite thoughtful. On particularly rainy and wet days, the rock slabs get slippery. If it was completely even, the chance of slipping and falling is actually much higher as there is no grip. Having the uneven rocks and little steps provide better grip and thus the people did not fall and get hurt.
I have never really thought about the architecture of places until Korea. Seeing these palaces and huge historical buildings, I was always in awe of their size and grandeur. Learning about the history and its design only adds to make the experience more amazing. The amount of thought and consideration for all things that goes into the buildings just astounds me. I’m even more intrigued now to learn more about architecture from all different countries and cultures.