The city of Seoul is a place of progress and tradition. Alongside the modern, high-rise buildings are ancient palaces and shrines. Palaces in Seoul are located near the center of the city, and one of them is majestic Changgyeong-gung. This Seoul palace used to be a Summer Palace for the Goryeo Emperor, but later became one of Korea’s “Five Grand Palaces” during the Joseon Dynasty. It was built by King Sejong the Great (fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty from 1418-1450) for his retiring father, King Taejong (the third king). It was later enlarged and named as “Changgyeong-gung Palace” by King Seongjong (the 9th king, 1457-1494) in 1483. During the Japanese reign, the palace functioned as a zoo, botanical garden and museum, but the zoo and botanical garden were removed in 1983 in order to restore the place’s dignity as an ancient palace.
Today, this palace is an important tourist destination within the bustling modern city of Seoul. Its main features and attractions are its main gate, bridge and main hall. Changgyeong-gung’s main gate is called “Honghwamun”, officially designated as National Treasure 384. Facing eastward, this gate was first built in 1484, a year after the completion of the palace itself. Along with other portions of the palace, the main gate was burned down in 1592 when the Japanese invaded Korea. It was rebuilt only in 1616; reconstructed to have two wooden tiers and a ball pavilion (“sipjagak”) on both sides. As tourists visit the palace and pass through Hongwamun, the next ancient structure in sight is the Okcheongjo Bridge.
This centuries-old bridge serves as a symbolic entry to the courtyard. Visitors have no choice but to walk through carved goblins under the bridge’s parapet, between the arches. The goblins or “Dokkaebi” were placed there in order to ward off evil spirits. Supported by twin arches, Okcheongyo Bridge is 9.9 meters long and 6.6 meters wide. It is a simple structure yet very iconic. It was designated as National Treasure 386.
The third and final ancient structure is the palace main hall, also known as “Myeongjeongjeon”. Important state affairs, royal meetings, royal banquets, and other official gatherings were conducted here since it was first built in 1484. Originally, the area occupied by the main hall was constructed as living quarters for dowager queens, built on an elevated stone yard. The main hall was also burned down in 1592 during the Japanese invasion and rebuilt in 1616. Of all the other main halls within ancient palaces in Seoul, Myeongjeongjeon is the oldest, although smaller than the main halls of Gyeongbok-gung Palace and Changdeok-gung Palace. Each of their main halls has two floors. Changgyeong-gung’s single-story main hall is much simpler. A special feature of Myeongjeongjeon is a three-level walkway that runs through the main hall. This center path was only walked upon by the king. Back in ancient times, royal guards patrolled the area and stayed inside single-room units that surrounded the palace like a single wall structure. The single rooms also served as royal funeral areas. The age-old main hall of Changgyeong-gung is designated as National Treasure 226.