Seoul is home to five royal palaces from the Chosun Dynasty. They generally consist of a host of buildings with the throne hall and royal council hall at the center. Behind the throne hall, where major state events were held, are the sleeping quarters, and to the east is the crown prince's residence. A garden at the back of the palace allowed the king and his family to rest from their duties.
Each building was made of wood and featured a tiled roof and multi-color paintings on the pillars and rafters to illustrate the authority and dignity of the king.
◆ Gyeongbok Palace
Yi Seong-gye founded the Chosun Dynasty in 1392 and designated Hanyang (now Seoul) as the capital. He had a new palace built there and named it Gyeongbok (Felicitous Blessing) Palace. It was burned to ashes during the Japanese invasions of Korea from 1592 to 1598 and rebuilt in 1867. Visitors to the palace can watch the royal guard changing ceremony every hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in front of the main gate.
◆ Changdeok Palace
Changdeok Palace was the second Chosun Dynasty palace built in 1405. Meaning "prospering virtue," the palace replaced Gyeongbok Palace amidst political struggle over the throne. It was also burnt during the Japanese invasion but rebuilt in 1609 to be used as the state palace. A must-see in the palace, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997, is the back garden. The biggest of its kind from the Chosun period, this beautiful and lush garden was favored by the royal family.
◆ Changgyeong Palace
Built in 1483, Changgyeong (Flourishing Gladness) Palace was one of the "eastern palaces" along with Changdeok Palace because they sat east of Gyeongbok Palace. In the last years of the dynasty, the Japanese occupiers built a zoo, botanical garden and museum in the palace compound with a view to symbolically undermining the royal status of the dynasty. The palace was restored in 1984 with the removal of the structures added by the Japanese.
◆ Gyeonghui Palace
Initially called Gyeongdeok Palace, Gyeonghui (Serene Harmony) Palace was built in 1623 and also called the "western palace" as it was located west of Gyeongbok Palace. It was not built as a main seat of government but as a kind of royal villa. Visitors to the palace should drop by the nearby Seoul Museum of History as well.
◆ Deoksu Palace
Originally called Gyeongun Palace, Deoksu (Virtuous Longevity) Palace got its current name only in 1907, when Emperor Gojong moved into the palace, in a doomed attempt to ensure the monarch's longevity. Unlike other Chosun palaces, Deoksu Palace uniquely integrates traditional wooden and Western architectural elements. Visitors to the palace should not miss the royal guard changing ceremony, which is held three times a day.