In the center of the city of Seoul, just steps from the opera house and U.S. Embassy, can be found one of the most important ancient sites the city has to offer: the Gyeongbokgung Palace. The palace was originally constructed in 1395, and the name translates as the “palace greatly blessed by heaven.” It served as the main palace for the Joseon Dynasty for more than five hundred years.
With a view of Mount Bugaksan in the distance, the immense size of the palace speaks to its importance as the center of dynastic life. For hundreds of years after its completion, the palace was expanded to almost five hundred separate structures. However during one of many Japanese invasions in 1592 it was set on fire and destroyed. It was left abandoned until 1867 when a restoration was begun. However, again in 1911, the Japanese occupied Korea and the palace, a symbol of Korean national sovereignty, was again threatened. The land it stood upon was seized by the Japanese government, and in 1915 the Japanese led a razing campaign and destroyed ninety percent of the buildings. Soon thereafter, the remaining ten percent were destroyed.
The 1926 Japanese colonial government building that was built on former palace lands was finally taken down in 1996, as it has only been since 1990 that a systematic restoration has been undertaken and important landmarks such as the main Gwanghwamun Gate have since been completely restored.
Highlights include the main throne hall of Gyeongbokgung where the King’s international affairs of state were conducted, the five meter high [16 feet] palace walls that extend to over 2400 meters [1.5 miles], the four main gates, the Sanjeongjeon hall where the King managed domestic affairs, and the Gangnyeongjeon, the King’s living quarters. One of the most impressive sights is the Gyeonghoeru Pavillion, the formal banquet hall that was at its peak of glory in the early to late fifteenth century.
While nothing remains of the original fourteenth century construction, the reconstructed palace and grounds offer visual insight into the opulence and importance of the Joseon Dynasty.