Seoul has its fair share of palaces and palace complexes. We’d already explored Changdeokgung Palace on the earlier weekend and chose Gyeongbokgung Palace for the change of royal guard ceremony.
Gyeongbokgung Palace can be easily reached by taking the subway line 3 to Gyeongbokgung station and exiting the station at Exit 5. Alternatively, you can take line 5 to Gwanghwamun Station and leave the station at Exit 2. A statue of Haechi (the symbol of Seoul) welcomes visitors. It’s worth taking the time out to read the plaque on Seoul’s mythical guardian.
With the mountains in the background and the towering statue of statue of King Sejong in the foreground, Gwanghwamun Square is definitely a sight to witness. In my carefree excitement, I clicked everything that I saw. Suddenly, a cop in plain clothes yelled a big fat ‘No’ with a ‘cross’ hand sign – lest I didn’t understand. Fair enough, I thought, we proceeded towards the main palace and didn’t click another snap.
Change of Guard Ceremony
The re-enactment of the change of guard ceremony starts at 10 am in the morning and the crowd build-up is gradual. It was extremely hot and unfortunately, the venue for the change of guard ceremony is held out in the open. A thin line demarcated an area for visitors to observe the ceremony. With no shade, the wide open sky, and a brightly burning sun, I could barely see what I was recording on my phone camera.
A solo guard sounds a gong which serves as a cue for the others to begin the ceremony.
The guards were dressed in vibrant, loose flowing garments and didn’t seem to mind the heat. I wondered, how could they wear their colourful vestments in the piercing heat and not flinch. Shrill musical instruments accompanied the guards march and continued till they reached Gwanghwamun Gate. The ceremony continued outside, but we headed towards the inner palace complex.
Geunjeongjeon (Imperial Throne Hall)
Stately chambers, sloping roof tops with guardians, abandoned thrones, and eerily quiet wooden enclosures intertwine in a maze of ancient construction. Black Boards give a brief history of each structure and also serve as a grim reminder of the chequered past of its imperial rulers. Geunjeongjeon (Imperial Throne Hall) is the main hall where the King used to hold court.
Once again, I remembered the magnitude of the Forbidden City. And although, Gyeongbokgung Palace pales in comparison, it’s the seat of South Korean History and Culture. A symbol of pride and resilience. During the Japanese invasion many of the structures in the Palace Complex were destroyed. The government has since, restored most of them in an attempt to restore its former glory.
Gangnyeongjeon & Geoncheonggung – The Living Quarters
Desolate narrow alleys lead to Gangnyeongjeon – the King’s living quarters. Often, when I visit places like these, I wonder what might life have been back then. There’s an eerie silence broken by a shrill bird call. Few tourists venture here. Some doors are open – offering a peak into the rooms inside.
We walked towards the Pavilion – a hauntingly beautiful water scape. It’s not surprising that Hyangwonjeong translates as ‘Pavilion of Far-Reaching Fragrance’. The water had turned green under a blanket of leaves. At a quiet spot, in the shade of a tree, we sat still and let our minds wander.
After exiting a maze of similar looking structures and passing a wide open garden space we reached Gyeonghoeru (Pavilion). Kings chose to host banquets at this two storied Pavilion.
Geunjeongjeon Haenggak (Cloister)
It was nearing lunch time and before exiting the palace complex, we visited the National Palace Museum. Entry is free and definitely worth a glance to understand the history of Korean royalty.