Just near Cheonggyecheon Stream is the infamous Gyeongbokgung Palace, which was the second destination of our tour. This Joseon dynasty palace, which has undergone repair and reconstruction over the ages, is positioned with a stunning backdrop of mountains. Just looking at the gates before entering is greatly impressive. The main entrance is so overwhelmingly magnificent with all the amazing colours and detailing. It was first constructed in 1394 and is the main palace of the five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty. Gyeongbokgung translates to “Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven” and it’s a MASSIVE palace that would take a whole day to explore.
There is a changing of the guards at regular intervals, and we were lucky enough to witness this. Reminiscent of Buckingham Palace’s own guard changing, with the same sense of regimented purpose and pomp, yet also greatly different. Both colourful and interesting, we’d suggest you time your arrival or departure to coincide with this event. We were lucky enough to have an amazing tour guide to take us around the palace, who gave us a whole host of her valuable knowledge. For example, we learnt that something many tourists complain about is the uneven flooring of the palace grounds, as other Asian palaces in China and Japan featured level and smooth flooring. But the paving in the palace is purposely uneven so that those who approach the king will do so with caution as they have to watch their stepping. In turn, this would mean they were constantly lowering their head to the king.
Another really interesting object which was explained to us was the sundial by the King’s study. This sundial not only told the time, but the season too, due to it’s unique concave structure. It was so well thought out and was created about 100 years before it was seen in the West. Back in the day, only the King had a sundial and a bell would be rung everyday at 5am so that people would know the start of the day. Have you also wondered why Koreans have the tradition of removing shoes before going indoors? A fun fact our amazing tour guide shared with us was that because underfloor heating was used, the Korean lifestyle would widely be centered around the warm floor, meaning it was important to keep the floor clean. Nowadays, even though Koreans are living in high rise buildings, this is a hygiene tradition that is still strictly practiced.
Korean Palaces are well known for their iconic intricate roofing. Just look at the amazing and vibrant colouring and all the details. One problem that us Londoners know too well are pigeons, and just like our Trafalgar Square, you can imagine how much the pigeons and birds love these elaborate rooftops. Whilst we were walking through we noticed netting on these rooftops and we figured just like London, it was a modern day bird proofing precaution. But our tour guide explained to us that this netting has been in place for many years to protect the elaborate rooftops and the nets weren’t just any old netting but woven with pure silk.
Unfortunately we were only able to explore the main grounds and the study quarters of the King due to time constraints. But the palace is beautiful and overflowing with so much culture and history. The palace is very popular for tourists and Koreans alike, we saw many school tour groups visiting the palace along with some adorable kindergardeners. We were also very jealous of the school kids that got to dress up in traditional costumes and run around the palace. We would say if you can, get on a tour around the palace as although the palace is stunning to look at, the explanations and fun facts you learn from a tour guide are invaluable. The tour guides are volunteers, and you can really sense their pride and passion as they talk about the palace.