The last kingdom in Korea was the Joseon Dynasty (조선왕조/Jo-seon-wang-jo), which lasted from 1392 to 1910. Over the reign of Joseon, Seoul became the capital city and center of state affairs. Throughout the years, the kings had many grand palaces built here – five of them are currently open to the public.
- Gyeongbokgung Palace
Gyeongbokgung Palace was the first palace built by the Joseon dynasty, and from its halls the Joseon Kings ruled Korea. The magnificent complex is divided into facilities for managing state affairs of the king and his administrators, the living quarters for the royal family, and recreational gardens. Construction on Gyeongbokgung Palace was completed in 1395 at the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty during the reign of King Taejo. Gyeongbokgung, which means “palace greatly blessed by Heaven,” was built in the heart of Seoul surrounded by Mount Bugaksan and Mount Namsan.
The palace was the center of power during the Joseon Dynasty until the Japanese invasion of 1592. During this time, the palace was destroyed by fire and left in ashes. One fire was started by slaves who wanted to destroy legal status records. The ruins of Gyeongbokgung were abandoned for the next 270 years.
- Changdeokgung Palace
Changdeokgung Palace is a grand royal residence located east of Gyeongbokgung Palace. It is the best-preserved of the remaining Joseon palaces. The palace is the second oldest in Seoul after Gyeongbokgung and was used as a secondary palace when first built. Construction on the palace known as “the palace of illustrious virtue” began in 1405 during the reign of King Taejong and was completed in 1412. Changdeokgung, along with Changgyeonggung Palace, were located in the east and therefore they were known as the “East Palace.” Changdeokgung served as the main royal residence of Seoul for 270 years.
This beauty is one of the best-preserved examples of Korean magnificent architecture and one of the most beautiful palaces in Seoul. It became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997.
- Changgyeonggung Palace
Changgyeonggung Palace, located in the heart of Seoul, has been used as a royal residence and as a secondary palace for queens and the king’s father. Taejo, the first king of the Joseon Dynasty, resided here.
Changgyeonggung Palace, along with Changdeokgung Palace, were together known as Donggwol, or the East Palace. Changgyeonggung Palace was destroyed by fires during the Japanese invasion from 1592 to 1598. In 1616, the palace was rebuilt and restored starting with Myeongjeongjeon Hall, Myeongjeongmun Gate, and Honghwamun Gate. These structures are the oldest remaining buildings here.
- Deoksugung Palace
Deoksugung Palace was the location where Prince Wolsan, the older brother of King Seongjong, lived. At the time, the residence was not known as a palace. The area consisted of residential buildings for descendants of the royal family. During the Japanese occupation of Korea in 1592, the residential buildings became a temporary royal residence after all the other palaces were destroyed by fires. In 1608, King Gwanghaegun was crowned king here. In 1611, the temporary residence was renamed Gyeongungung, thus making it a true royal palace.
- Gyeonghuigung Palace
Gyeonghuigung Palace, one of five grand palaces built during the Joseon Dynasty, served as a secondary royal villa for the king during daily excursions. It was also used as a place of shelter during times of emergency. For over 200 years, ten kings resided at this location. Construction began in 1617 during the 9th ruling year of King Gwanghaegun of Joseon, who reigned from 1608 to 1623.
Before 1760, the palace was known as Gyeongdeokgung or Seogwol, meaning palace in the west. In 1760, the palace was renamed to Gyeonghuigung. In the 1990s, reconstruction work was started to restore the decayed royal residence to its former glory. Though many of the gates and halls have since been restored, it still looks very different from its original design and features. In 2002, the area was reopened to the public.
South Korea has a rich culture with a colorful history of over 600 years Seoul and its palaces are icons of many eras and Korean culture. The traditional palaces are core witness of Korea's historic moments.
Cover Image: Agoda
Written by Shreeya Saldanha