Along Seoul’s busy downtown Jeong-dong area across the street from City Hall stands the beautiful Deoksu-gung Palace. Seoul is home to a number of ancient palaces but Deoksu-gung is the only one with an elegant stone-wall road and with modern western-style buildings.
Deoksu-gung Palace was originally owned or attributed to Wolsandaegun, the older brother of King Seongjong (1469-1494) during the Joseon Dynasty. When Gwanghaegun became king in 1611, he declared it to be a proper palace and named it Gyeongun-gung. Later, however, it was renamed back to Deoksu-gung, which is why today this palace may be referred to with either name, but officially, Deoksu-gung. It is one of Korea’s Five Grand Palaces, the major palaces in Seoul.
When in Seoul, this is definitely one place you should check out, and it is not hard to find, either. As you walk into the palace the first thing you will see is the Daehanmun Gate (the main gate) and the first impression you will get is the tranquility and sacredness of the area. Daehanmun is guarded and you can watch as the guards change, which is actually a show at 11:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. As you go inside you will see and cross the wide Geumcheon Bridge, which leads to Junghwa Gate and Junghwajeon building, the palace’s main building. In ancient times, the king’s carriage used to pass over Geumcheon and onto the stately Junghwajeon building where important official affairs and international meetings took place. It used to be a walled two-storey building, which is why the Junghwa Gate stands beside it. Built in 1900, Junghwajeon was the first western-style structure to be built within palace grounds, and King Gojong personally enjoyed resting here and drinking coffee. The king used to sleep at the east wing, while the queen at the west wing. Still existing today are secret passageways at the back of Junghwajeon that lead to the Russian Emissary. Construction of this important building was not completed until it became a Japanese property in 1905. It was finally completed in 1910 and was used as a public art gallery after Gojong died.
As you see, there is so much history to this Seoul palace for you to reflect on as you walk inside the premises. Korea’s greatest leaders of those times regularly convened at the Junghwajeon Hall. You can still see the elaborate features that are silent witnesses to Seoul’s rich history. These features include the pair of dragons on the canopy above the king’s throne. The dragons were said to represent King Gojong’s bravery. After the Second World War and the Korean Declaration of Independence, it was also here where the American-Russian joint commission was held. Today, the east wing serves as a Palace Treasure exhibition, while the west wing houses part of the National Modern Arts Center.
To get to Deoksu-gung Palace, get to the City Hall Subway Station and exit at Exit 2 or Exit 12. Take a short walk to the palace grounds; it is near Seoul Plaza. It is open every day except on Mondays. Admission is ?1,000 for adults (groups: ?800) and ?500 for children and soldiers (groups: ?400). Children under 6 years old and senior citizens may enter for free.