Gyeongbokgung Palace was built in 1395 and became the heart of Seoul, South Korea. In its long existence, it has suffered some major tragedies – fires, an invasion and an assassination.
Gyeongbokgung Palace stands for “Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven”. To understand why, all you have to do is observe its location – surrounded by Mount Bugaksan and Mount Namsan.
The Japanese Invasion, Queen Min’s Assassination and Reconstruction Efforts
There were many fires that destroyed Gyeongbokgung Palace throughout the years, but the largest destruction occurred during the Japanese invasion of 1592. During 6 years of Japanese occupation, 93% of the buildings were destroyed.
The Japanese didn’t just destroy the palace during colonization, but they also assassinated Empress Myeongseoqng. The Empress’ death sparked outrage in Korea and abroad, leading to the founding of the Korean Empire.
Queen Min, as the Empress was also known, was a powerful Korean influence against the Japanese. She was educated and actively campaigned for stronger relations between Korea and Russia.
She was also a feminist, who advocated for women’s right for education and equality to dress alike. In a time when women were merely ornamental, Queen Min’s influence and standing in politics was considered a great threat to Japan.
Japanese assassins killed Queen Min and burned her body in the Okhoru Pavilion. Her husband, the Emperor of Korea, had to seek refuge within the Russian legation. Not able to return to Gyeongbokgung Palace, he moved to Deoksugung Palace with his son where he would spend the rest of his days.
In 1867, the reconstruction of Gyeongbokgung Palace started to take place. In the early 1900’s, Japan once again colonized Korea and ruled over it until the end of World War II.
Around 1990, South Korea placed more emphasis on rebuilding the palace to its original glory.
Although Gyeongbokgung Palace is outstanding, it has not been entirely finished even after almost three decades of reconstruction. It will take a few more decades until all the original buildings are re-erected.
How to make the most of your visit to Gyeongbokgung Palace
When you visit Gyeongbokgung Palace, you will feel like you are immersed in a fascinating political plot that happened centuries ago.
The effects of the Japanese invasion and assassination of Queen Min can still be felt today.
Plan for at least a half-day and take advantage of the free tours available in many languages at the visitor’s entrance to make the most of your visit.
Don’t forget to do these things while walking in the palace:
Watch the change of the guards
Visit the Blue House (current residence of the president of South Korea)
Admire the colorful decoration on the roofs of the buildings, which is only used on official buildings
Count the number of decorative figurines on the rooftops, which denote the importance of the building
Take a picture of South Korean women dressed in traditional hanboks. Ask first, of course!
Have you been to Seoul, South Korea?
This post was updated on April, 2019.