Deoksugung: A Palace at Night

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Deoksugung is the only major palace in Seoul which is open at night on a regular basis, so after my trip to Namsan and N Seoul Tower, I walked through Namdaemun Market to reach the palace.

Deoksugung is in Seoul's Jung (Central) District

Deoksugung is in Seoul’s Jung (Central) District

Deoksugung is the smallest of the major palaces in Seoul. It did not become an official palace until the Japanese invasion in the late 16th century, when the royal family took refuge there after the other palaces burned down.

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After the restoration of Changdeokgung Palace in 1618, this palace became minor once again, until 1897 when Emperor Gojong stopped hiding in the Russian legation and moved into this palace. He lived in this palace for the rest of his life, even after his abdication.

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Emperor Gojong understood that if the Joseon Kingdom, which Gojong declared to be the ‘Great Han Empire’, did not modernize, at least in some ways, it was doomed to be taken over by foreign powers. Whereas Joseon had previously tried to keep out foreign influence, particularly if that influence was not Chinese, Gojong allowed some Europeans to establish themselves in Joseon / Great Han Empire.

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Thus, Deoksugung is the only Joseon palace which incorporates a hybrid of traditional Korean and European architecture, such as this gazebo.

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Even though I never saw Deoksugung in the day, I suspect this structure does look better with the artificial illumination.

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The other 'Western' building, which actually also has traditional Korean features if one looks carefully

The other ‘Western’ building, which actually also has traditional Korean features if one looks carefully

The current Deoksugung is only about a third of the size it had during the time of the Great Han Empire.

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However, I suspect the palace will never be restored to its former size, as its in the beating urban heart of Seoul. It’s just across the street from Seoul City Hall – in fact one of the exits of the ‘City Hall’ subway station is just outside the main entrance to Deoksugung.

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Like the other palaces, Deoksugung has a throne for the king (or rather, emperor) with the painting of the hills, waterfalls, sun and moon, as well as a carving of the double phoenix in the ceiling.

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Since there are no guided tours at night, this is the only major palace I visited without a guide. I think it was totally worth it, especially because I had already learned about some of the basic features of Joseon palaces and could spot them and know a little about their significance without further assistance.

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Deoksugung really is different. It’s got the European influence, and it’s in the heart of the city rather than at the foot of forested hills like the other major palaces. And of course, most evenings you can see it at night.

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8 Responses to Deoksugung: A Palace at Night

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