…A Palatial Tour…

You maybe in one of the busiest, fastest cities in the world, but you can still get lost in the past. With their sprawling grounds, elegant halls and maze – like structures, Seoul’s palace are the perfect way to while away a day – or even two.

Seoul attracts foreign visitors with its boundless and colorful faces. Along with excellent food and shopping, much of that color is to be found in the city’s traditional culture, and especially its splendid palaces. Whether you’re here for a proper vacation or just passing through for a couple of days, there are some historical sites that you simply cannot miss.

At the top of the list is Gyeongbokgung Palace, near Gyeongbokgung Station on subway line NO. 3. Gyeongbokgung was the main palace of Korea’s Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), and its vast grounds still house such majestic buildings as Geunjeongjeon Hall, where kings accepted felicitations from their officials. Also in Gyeongbokgung Palace is Hyangwonjeong Hall, the ideal spot for a bit of quite rumination. Literally meaning “a pavilion of far-reaching fragrance”, Hyangwonjeong offers a picture perfect view of Gyeongbokgung’s beautiful natural surroundings.

Once you’ve had your fill of Gyeongbokgung, take a stroll along Samcheongdong Road, a beautifully quaint street winding away from the palace’s eastern perimeter. Give yourself a couple of hours to meander through its boutiques and galleries, and then kick back with a cappuccino or herbal tea in a traditional Korean hanok house. Pure Bliss.

Next up is Changdeokgung Palace, east of Gyeongbokgung. Built in 1405, Changdeokgung was a royal palace for around 500 years, and housed the last Joseon emperor, Sunjong, until his death in 1926.

This beautiful structure shared in the joys and pain of many Joseon kings. Perhaps more than any other, it perfectly captures the harmony between man and nature that Joseon-era architects strove so hard to achieve. Passing through Bulromun Gate and entering the Huwon Garden, you come across an eye-catching pond, Aeryeonji, where lotus flowers blossom in the summer time. Changdeokgung retains more of its original shape and structures than any other palace in Seoul, a status that helped it become a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

Stroll on toward Bugaksan Mountain and you’ll come to Gahoedong Hanok Village, where nobles and high-ranking officials once lived. Better known as Bukcheon Hanok Village, it is one of the best preserved hanok settlements in the country, giving a taste of how Korea of yore world have looked and felt.

Changgyeonggung Palace, built in 1484, is located between Changdeokgung Palace and the Jongno area of downtown Seoul. A walk through Changgyeonggung is like a primer in some of Korea’s most momentous history: here, you can encounter traces of King Yeongjo and King Jeongjo, who loved their people and academia in equal measure, and the ill-fated life of Sadoseja (Crown Prince Sado).

The majestic greenhouse to the palace’s rear sites in the center of what was Korea’s first Western-style botanical garden. Changgyeonggung is also the palave where Dae Jang Geum, a Joseon-era female doctor whose story became a smash-hit TV series, is said to have tended to King Jungjong. Deoksugung, is the smallest of Seoul’s five remaining palaces. Rebuilt near the turn of the 20th century, it served as the residence for King Gojong – the second-last Joseon monarch – after his traumatic period of refuge in the Russian Legation in 1896.

“The palace of virtuous longevity” is located at the corner of Seoul’s busiest downtown intersection. Particularly famous for its elegant stone-wall road, it sits alongside a series of Western-style buildings, giving it a unique backdrop. Get to the main gate of the palace at 11 am, 2 pm or 3:30 pm, and you can watch the fabulous royal guards changing ceremony.

Exit the palace, walk along its stone walls, and you’ll get to Chongdong Theater, one of the best known performance venues in Korea. Established in 1995 as an annex of The National Theater of Korea, Chongdong Theater offers a variety of shows and performances including, most notably, MISO, which combines an old-time dance and music show with a traditional narrative vocal music called pansori.

Each palace makes a great trip on its own, but as they’re all close by one another, it’s possible to see the whole lot in a couple of days. So for the modest price of a Combined Palace Entrance Ticket, you can witness all the majesty of Korea’s dynastic history.

Source : Korea People & Culture Magazine, February 2011

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