A Date With Deoksugung

A short hop away from City Hall Station, you will be able to enjoy a grand Joseon Dynasty palace in the compact surroundings of Seoul’s modern skyscrapers.

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Emperors of Old
Emperors of Old

Deoksugung Palace was inhabited by various Korean royalties until the colonial period around the turn of the 20th century. It is one of the “Five Grand Palaces” of Seoul that were built by the kings of the Joseon Dynasty. The buildings are of varying construction, including some buildings were built in Western style. In addition to the traditional palace buildings, there are also forested gardens, a statue of King Sejong the Great and the National Museum of Art, which holds special exhibitions.

Deoksugung Palace is special among Korean palaces. It has a modern and a western style garden and fountain. The Changing of the Royal Guard is in front of Daehanmun. It is a very popular event for many visitors. The royal guard was responsible for opening and closing the palace gate during the Joseon Dynasty. I never got to see the guard changing personally, but I have heard friends who raved about it.

Deoksugung, Seoul
Deoksugung, Seoul

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This was the first palace of Seoul that I ever visited, first time back in October 2011. At that stage, I hadn’t yet been to the more grand palaces such as Changdeokgung or Gyeongbokgung, so I was very impressed with my first experience of Korean culture. It is a very small palace in comparison to the others, and its location near to City Hall Sunway Station and the busy roundabouts and highways outside the entrance makes it seem a very urban palace, with not many gardens to speak of.

However, don’t let that prevent you from visiting. Korean culture fascinates me on many levels: the history; the architecture; the politics; not to mention the sense of community that seems to have endured since the Joseon Dynasty in everyday Korean family life.

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Deoksugung was originally the residence of Prince Wolsan, the older brother of King Seongjong. This residence became a royal ‘palace’ during the Imjin war after all of the other palaces were burned in 1592 during the Imjin wars. King Seonjo was the first Joseon king to reside at the palace. King Gwanghaegun was crowned in this palace in 1608, and renamed it Gyeongun-gung in 1611. After the official palace was moved to the rebuilt Changdeokgung in 1618, it was used as an auxiliary palace for 270 years and was renamed Seogung (West Palace).

In 1897, after the incident when Emperor Gojong took refuge in the Russian legation, he returned to this place and named it Gyeongungung again. Expansion of the facility followed after his return. After Emperor Gojong abdicated the throne to Emperor Sunjong, he continued to live in this palace. The palace was then renamed Deoksugung, as a reference to a wish for longevity of Emperor Gojong. Emperor Gojong died in Hamnyeongjeon.

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I was fortunate enough to visit Deoksugung Palace on 3 occasions, the first of which was in the winter, and the latter two visits were in the summertime (shorts and plimsolls!). Whatever season you decide to visit Seoul, there is always a plethora of palaces and shrines to enjoy, and Deoksugung is close to the top of the priority list. Gyeongbokgung may be the largest (or seems to the largest) palace, and Changdeokgung may have the nicest gardens, but for a little introduction to Korea’s Joseon Dynasty, and for a chance to see some amazing Korean architecture (so cool!), then Deoksugung is the place to be!

Admission to Deoksugung Palace is 1000 Won, although the 5 Palace Ticket costs 10,000 Won, and if you plan to visit the other palaces, plus the Jongmyo Shrine, then that ticket may represent better value.

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