Seoul: Gyeongbokgung Palace

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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.

collage of Gyeongbokgung Palace changing of the guards and the pavilion

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.

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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.

Gyeongbokgung Palace's Okhoru Pavilion where Queen Min was assassinated

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.

Gyeongbokgung Palace Seoul South Korea

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.

Gyeongbokgung Palace entrance gates

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

Gyeongbokgung Palace changing of the guards
Gyeongbokgung Palace changing of the guards

Visit the Blue House (current residence of the president of South Korea)

Blue house, Seoul, South Korea, where the president lives

Admire the colorful decoration on the roofs of the buildings, which is only used on official buildings

Gyeongbokgung Palace architectural detail

Count the number of decorative figurines on the rooftops, which denote the importance of the building

Gyeongbokgung Palace architectural detail based on the monkey king fable

Take a picture of South Korean women dressed in traditional hanboks. Ask first, of course!

Korean Women dressed in hanboks at Gyeongbokgung Palace
Korean Women dressed in hanboks and holding the South Korean flag at Gyeongbokgung Palace
Beautiful girls in Korea

For more travel guides for South Korea, click here. If you would like to follow along our next trip, don’t forget to follow me on Instagram and YouTube!

Have you been to Seoul, South Korea?

This post was updated on April, 2019.

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2 Comments

  1. September 27, 2019 / 8:04 pm

    Great post! I love going to Gyeongbokgung Palace and always make it my first activity when I visit Seoul. I love the free guided tours. They are so informative and really help you get an understanding of the history, which makes the palace come to life and be more than just a beautiful sight to see. I also appreciate that the changing of the guards ceremony is narrated in both Korean and English. The entire palace is definitely designed to help visitors get the most out of their day and learn a lot about Korean history. Thank you for sharing such a great post!

    • Jana
      Author
      October 7, 2019 / 3:05 pm

      I am so glad you enjoy this post. Thanks for checking it out and taking the time to leave me a comment.

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