Even though I started my trip to Seoul by seeing Jongmyo, Gyeongbokgung, Changgyeonggung and Deoksugung in two days, I decided to save Changdeokgung, which is said to be the most beautiful, and is a World Heritage Site, for last. And ‘last’ turned out to be ‘just two days before I left South Korea’.
Changdeokgung was originally built during the reign of King Taejong as a secondary palace, for both official and residential use, for the Joseon royal court. After most of the royal palaces burned down in the late 16th century, it became the main palace until King Gojong restored Gyeongbokgung in the middle of the 19th century.
I went with a Mandarin-language tour because of the convenient timing. As you can see in the above photo, Changdeokgung gets a lot of visitors.
Above is the throne hall of this palace, which the guide pointed out as being of the most important buildings in this palace complex.
And then we came to a bit of an unusual building … which building in the following photo stands out?
Yes, it is the blue-tiled building! It is very, very rare for a Joseon-era building to have blue tiles (in fact, this might be the only example).
Since this palace was the home and center of the Joseon royalty for about 250 years, of course it’s so full of history that it’s practically bursting. However, I think it’s fun simple to wander around the place.
As I’ve said many times before, I really like Joseon-era architecture, and Changdeokgung is considered one of the finest and most influential examples (that’s part of why it’s on the World Heritage List).
I don’t remember whether it was at this palace (Changdeokgung), or at Gyeongbokgung (I know it was one of the palaces I visited with a Mandarin-language tour), but the guide pointed out a special box in the building which was used to collect the king’s feces. Doctors had to taste the feces every day in order to monitor the king’s health.
One of the reasons I delayed visiting Changdeokgung until near the end of my trip was that I wanted to be sure to be there on a clear day – the best to appreciate its beauty.
I’ve mentioned before that I am fond of the manhwa (Korean comic book) Goong, which simply means ‘Palace.
Park So-hee, the artist who made Goong, said that she was inspired by walking around Seoul’s palaces. She wondered, what if these palaces were still being used by a living Joseon monarchy?
Thus, she made a story in an alternative universe where present-day Korea is a constitutional monarchy, though the king in her comic book seems to have considerably more political power than any present-day monarch I am aware of.
I first discovered the English-language edition of Goong while I was a college student. It wasn’t the first manhwa I encountered, but it’s the first one I encountered which I am still endeared to.
Later, shortly after I moved to Taiwan, I picked up some volumes from the Mandarin (Traditional Chinese) edition. Since I had already read a considerable amount of the English-language edition, I could follow it even though my Chinese was very lacking those days.
Shortly after moving to Taoyuan City, I switched to reading Evyione, another manhwa, was a huge step from ‘reading Chinese is super-hard and I don’t even understand it’ to ‘reading Chinese is enjoyable and I somewhat understand it’. After having read and re-read all of the volumes of Evyione which were available in Chinese at that time, I returned to Goong, which became another good step towards ‘reading Chinese is enjoyable and I mostly understand it’. Since it was so crucial at an important point in the development of my Chinese reading skills, that’s another layer of nostalgia I feel for the series.
I picked up the latest volume of Goong whenever a new one was published in Chinese, and fortunately, the series was completely published in Chinese before I left Taiwan so I could read it all! I think the English language edition is publishing the final volume this month. I think some English-language fans are going to be surprised by the ending…
Goong wasn’t simply an inspiration for me to travel to South Korea, it was one of an accumulation of factors which made me want to spend a few years in East Asia in the first place. Thus, to visit this palace just two days before departure is a way to bring things in a full circle and, possibly, bring closure to my stay in East Asia.
In the next post, I will present the trees of Changdeokgung.