Five major palaces from Korea’s Joseon Dynasty remain, and while each one is impressive, only the Deoksugung Palace of Virtue and Longevity in Seoul sits surrounded by the capital’s high rises. Deoksugung is unique among Korean palaces in having a modern seal engraving and a western style garden and fountain. Here medieval and modern style architecture exist together in harmony.
The Russians were active in Korea before Japan’s annexation, and one of them, A.I. Sabatin, was a prolific architect at the turn of the century. On the Deoksugung campus, in 1900 Sabatin designed Jeonggwanheon, a curious pavilion whose sturdy stone pillars contrast with its dainty iron railings and wood posts decorated with colorful bats, deer and pine trees. Gojong liked to listen to music, discuss current affairs, and famously drank his favorite beverage, coffee, there. Tragically, it was also the site of an assassination attempt. Opium-laden coffee was served to both Gojong and his son. The Emperor didn’t drink the beverage, but crown prince Sunjong did, and reportedly never fully recovered from it. These attacks against his family, the Japanese defeats of the Chinese and Russians, along with secret deals with the Americans and British, all conspired to seal Korea’s fate. At the conclusion of the Portsmouth Peace Conference in 1905, Japan demanded that Korea be placed at its free disposal. Korea’s 2,000-year-old monarchy ended when Japan formally annexed Korea in 1910.
The Changing of the Royal Guard can be seen in front of Daehanmun (the main entrance). The procedure of the ceremony and the costume of the guards were reproduced with the help of historical research. During the Joseon Dynasty, the royal guard was responsible for opening and closing the palace gate as well as patrolling around the gate area. Today the event has become the pride of the Seoul Metropolitan Government, and is one of the main tourist attractions. The changing of the royal guard takes around 20 minutes. Following the ceremony visitors can take pictures with the royal guards and have the chance to try on the guard’s uniform, as well as to try on other traditional Korean dress. Outside the palace is a picturesque road flanked by a stone wall which is much loved by visitors.
Originally, Deoksugung was not a palace. The Imjin War (the Japanese invasions in 1592) left all the palaces in Korea severely damaged. When King Seonjo (the fourteenth king of the Joseon Dynasty) returned to Seoul from his evacuation, the primary palace Gyeongbokgung had been burnt to the ground and other palaces were also heavily damaged. A temporary palace was chosen from among the houses of the royal family. This is the origin of Deoksugung. King Gwanghaegun (the fifteenth king of the Joseon Dynasty) named the palace Gyeongungung, formalizing it as a royal palace. Since then it has been used as an auxiliary palace by many Joseon kings. In 1897, Emperor Gojong (the twenty-sixth king of the Joseon Dynasty) stayed here and expanded it. The modern buildings such as Seokjojeon Hall were constructed during this period. In 1907, the palace was renamed Deoksugung.
If you’re looking to make a day of it there is also the Seoul Museum of Art right around the corner from the entrance to Deoksugung. The Cheonggye Plaza at the head of the renovated Cheonggye Stream is a short walk away. Heading in the direction down along the stream and a little North is the Boshingak Bell Pavilion, Tapgol Park, and the Jongmyo Royal Shrine up by Line 1. It id the heart of the city, and there are plenty of restaurants and shops as well.
Hours of Operation:
Tuesday to Sunday 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. (Last admission 1 hour before closing time)
Adults (19 years and over) ₩1,000Youth (7 ~18 years) ₩500
To Get There:
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