The are five palaces in Seoul and I went to two of them today: Changdeokgung and Changgyeonggung.
Changdeokgung Palace was built in 1405 as the backup palace of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Being in the east, it balanced the primary palace (Gyeongbokgung), which was in the west. Changdeokgung was destroyed by fire during the Japanese invasion (1592-1598) and rebuilt in 1610. It served as the main palace for about 270 years. Apart from being the king and queen’s residence, the palace was used for formal state affairs and audiences with ministers.
Gyeongbokgung’s layout is guided by the main axis of the meridian. In contrast, Changdeokgung is laid out in harmony with the area’s topography — in particular, with the mountains in the background.
Changdeokgung was especially attractive for the reigning monarch because of the “Secret Garden” (as it has become known) at the back. It occupies about 60% of the palace area. Its beauty is hidden: the entire layout can’t be seen at once because of the multiple valleys. You must walk down into each valley to the pond and its pavilions to appreciate the garden.
I almost didn’t see the Secret Garden. Whilst looking at the main palace someone asked to look at my guide to the palace. He then mentioned that he had tickets for the 3.30pm tour of the garden. It turned out that you needed to buy a separate ticket for the garden. As I walked to the ticket office, I thought they must surely have sold out. When I got to the office, I was able to buy a ticket for the garden and for the adjacent palace, Changgyeonggung. Although my ticket was for the tour, it didn’t matter because, for some reason, visitors were allowed to walk around the garden without being on a tour today.
In 1917, some buildings were again destroyed by fire. This time, to replace them, the buildings at Gyeongbokgung Palace were dismantled and moved to the east palace’s site. Whilst this was happening, many structures were modified or damaged. The restoration, which started in 1991, is still ongoing. Changdeokgung is on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List.
Adjacent to Changdeokgung is Changgyeonggung Palace. It was the third palace built by the Joseon Dynasty. As Changdeokgung became the preferred palace, it was not big enough to house the current and past surviving royal family members. Changgyeonggung was built to house three ex-queens (grandmother, mother, and aunt) and a king who had abdicated.