Travel period Feb 2017
The “Palace of Prospering Virtue”
This was the second palace that was built after Gyeongbokgung and it has since been recognized as a World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO in 1997. An interesting feature of this place is its ‘Secret Garden’, because there are only a limited number of admission slots per day that are given out.
Changdeokgung is one of the “Five Grand Palaces” built by the kings of the Joseon Dynasty. The literal meaning of Changdeokgung is “Prospering Virtue Palace”.
The palace grounds are comprised of a public palace area, a royal family residence building, and the rear garden. Known as a place of rest for the kings, the rear garden boasts a gigantic Chinese Juniper tree that is over 300 years old, a small pond, and a pavilion.
Because of its location east of Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, with Changgyeonggung, it is also referred to as the “East Palace”.
Changdeokgung was the most favored palace of many princes of the Joseon Dynasty, and retained many elements dating from the Three Kingdoms of Korea period that were not incorporated in the more contemporary Gyeongbokgung.
One such element is the fact that the buildings of Changdeokgung blend with the topography of the site instead of imposing upon nature.
The first thing that caught our eyes were the giant three doors, that served as the entrance to Changdeokgung Palace, named Donhwamun Gate.
Donhwamun Gate, has a simple yet elegant two-story wooden design. Where the king would pass during royal ceremonies (his attendants used another gate). Donhwa means “great virtue teaches people and influences them to be warm hearted.” This is the oldest existing main gate in Korea. It was originally built in 1412 during the twelfth year of the reign of King Taejong. The gate was destroyed and set fire to by the Japanese during the Imjin War in 1592. It was rebuilt and restored to its current appearance from 1607 to 1609 during the reign of King Gwanghaegun.
After entering the palace grounds, we walked straight to the site of the government offices, Gwolnaegaksa.
Gwolnaegaksa was the location of a collection of government offices. These offices handled royal family and political affairs. Other buildings included a library, pharmacy, regal decrees office, and royal counsel committee bureau. The area here resembled a labyrinth, since so many buildings were located in such a small area. Main pavilions here include Gyujanggak (Royal Library), Geomseocheong (Publication Office), Hongmungwan (Office of Special Advisers), Naeuiwon (Royal Infirmary), and Bongmodang (Hall of Upholding the Policies of Former Kings).
During the Japanese occupation in the early 20th century, all the buildings here were destroyed. In 2005, Gwolnaegaksa was rebuilt to its original design.
Next, we walked around Huijeongdang Hall was used as a women’s residence and later become the king’s bed chamber. This place is where the king met his officials and dealt with state affairs. The original building was destroyed by a fire in 1917. When rebuilt in 1920 by the Japanese government, the materials from the king’s residence at Gyeongbokgung Palace were used. Although many reconstructed buildings resemble the original ones, Huijeongdang is completely different, as the interior is outfitted with western features such as wooden floorboards and carpets, glass windows, and chandeliers.
Huwon Secret Garden is a rear garden at the palace that flows naturally with nature and was used as a place of leisure by members of the royal family. At 78 acres, the garden takes up about sixty percent of the palace grounds. There were over 26,000 specimens of more than 100 different species. Some of the trees are over 300 years old. The design of the garden flows naturally with the surrounding nature. The highlight of the garden is the two-story Juhamnu Pavilion, located on a small, peaceful square lily pond. The king used it as a library and reading room.
Injeongjeon Hall is the main hall at Changdeokgung Palace. This was where meetings and coronation ceremonies were held. Foreign envoys would meet the king at this location when they arrived at the palace. The Hall is a two-story building, with five rooms in the front and four rooms on the side. The top of the roof was decorated with a plum design, which was a symbol of an imperial family during the very end of the Joseon Dynasty. The royal walkway and courtyard can be seen in front of the hall. On this walkway there are stone markers inscribed with ranks of court officials. Court officials would stand behind their designated stone marker when meeting with the king. Higher ranked officials stood closest to the king. Lower ranked officials would stand furthest from the king.
Leaving the courtyard leads to a single roofed gate known as Injeongmun Gate. Serving as the main gate of Injeongjeon Hall, Injeongmun Gate was built in 1405, then destroyed by the Japanese with multiple fires during the Imjin War. Therefore, the current form of the establishment displays designs that are more often seen in the late 19th century. Injeongmun Gate served as the place for several coronation ceremonies of kings, prince’s succession of the throne, and many other national affairs celebrated by the royal members, who gathered and aligned around this gate.
Jinseonmun Gate is the small inner and middle gate. In front of the structure is a wide stone bridge known as Geumcheongyo. Geumcheongyo bridge is the oldest structure in Changdeokgung palace. This stone bridge leads to the Jinseonmun gate where the king installed Sinmungo, a drum that commoners can supposedly strike to voice out their grievances.
Bridges similar to these are a common royal feature, and symbolizes purification of those who pass over them. Passing over the bridge and through the gate is a sign of royal sovereignty and is often seen at other royal residences in Seoul.
The Nakseonjae Complex is a residential compound built in 1847 during the reign of King Heonjong. Queen Myeongheon, the wife of Heonjong, was unable to bear a child for the king. Therefore, Heonjong took a concubine by the name of Gyeongbin to bear his child. Nakseonjae was built for Gyeongbin in an isolated corner at Changdeokgung Palace. In the complex there were garden and a simple yet beautiful pavilion known as Sangryangjeong or Pyeongwonru before the Japanese occupation of Korea.
Seonjeongjeon Hall lies to the east of Injeongjeon, the main throne hall at the palace. This was the place where the king would meet with high ranking officials at Changdeokgung Palace to discuss political, state, and palace affairs. A narrow corridor leads to Seonjeongmun Gate. This corridor was used during royal funerals when Seonjeongjeon Hall served as a royal shrine. This corridor is the only remaining evidence of its function during funerals. The roof of the structure is the only existing blue tiled palace roof.
Seonwonjeon Hall was the location at Changdeokgung Palace where portraits of former kings were enshrined and where ancestral rites were performed. At one time, King Taejo, King Yeongjo, and King Jeongjo all had their portraits enshrined here. These portraits were destroyed during the Korean War (1950-1953).
The simple structure seen today was used for storage of the court’s valuables. Auxiliary buildings, Jinseolcheong and Naechaldang, which are located to the left and right of the Hall were restored in 2005.
Directions to Changdeokgung Palace
- Take Subway Line 1, Line 3, or Line 5 to Jongno 3-ga Station (Exit 6) or take Subway Line 3 to Anguk Station (Exit 3).
- April – October: 09:00 – 18:30
December – February: 09:00 – 17:00
November and March: 09:00 – 17:30
Ticket office close 1 hour before closing time.
Guided tours in English are at 10:30 and 14:30.
Guided tours in English of the garden are at 11:30 and 14:30. This tour takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Closed on Monday.
Adult: KRW 3,000
Child: KRW 1,500
- Huwon Secret Garden
Adult: KRW 5,000
Child: KRW 2,500
This palace and garden are included with the Integrated Ticket of Palaces.
Note: The information provided in this post was correct at time of publishing but may change. For final clarification please check with the relevant service.