Gwanghwamun, the main gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace
Gyeongbokgung Palace, located north of Gwanghwamun Square, is one of the most iconic sights in all of Korea thanks to its long and storied history. Construction on Gyeongbokgung Palace was completed in 1395 at the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty during the reign of King Taejo. Gyeongbokgung, which means “palace greatly blessed by Heaven,” was built in the heart of Seoul surrounded by Mount Bugaksan and Mount Namsan.
Know Before You Go
Free guided tours in English are available at 11:00, 13:00, and 15:30.
Changing of the Guard ceremony takes place at the top of every hour from 11:00 to 15:00.
In 1394, during the early days of the Joseon Dynasty, the capital of Korea was moved from Kaesong, in modern day North Korea, to Seoul, known then as Hanyang. When the capital was moved, a new palace was required and built.
When construction was completed, Gyeongbokgung Palace became the heart of the capital of Korea along with the head of state of the Joseon Dynasty.
Changing of the guard ceremony
Expanded over time, Gyeongbokgung was the center of power during the Joseon Dynasty until the Japanese invasion of 1592-1598. During this time, the palace was destroyed by fire and left in ashes. One fire was started by slaves trying to destroy legal status records.
The ruins of Gyeongbokgung were abandoned for the next 270 years
In 1868, Gyeongbokgung was rebuilt and restored as an icon of Korea with help from Heungseon Daewongun, also known as Prince Regent. The royal residence was built differently as is it stood 270 years earlier. Gyeongbokgung Palace architecture skillfully combined ancient Chinese architecture principles with Joseon Dynasty tradition. Over 330 buildings were constructed in the area.
The new construction was the size of a small city taking up about 410,000 square meters (4,414,000 square feet). The palace at the time was a self functioning unit comparable to China’s Forbidden City.
During the Japanese occupation, Gyeongbokgung Palace was was mostly dismantled and destroyed, including Gwanghwamun Gate and nearly all other buildings that were rebuilt in 1867. All but ten buildings were demolished.
In 1916, the Japanese built their large General Government building north of Gwanghwamun Gate. This building, a sign of Japanese imperialism and a blow to the pride of Korea, stood until 1995.
Palace walls near Gwanghwamun Gate
With the war long over, the government of Korea has been trying to restore it to its former glory. Such steps have been taken such as restoring Gwanghwamun Gate and Heungnyemun Gate to their original state.
The restoration project by the South Korean government is scheduled to take at least another 20 years to complete.
Gyeongbokgung Palace Facts
The palace was first constructed in 1395 at the early days of the Joseon Dynasty.
Taejo was the king during the original construction. He reigned from 1392 to 1398.
Gyeongbokgung was the main palace of the capital city and the largest of the Five Grand Palaces in Seoul.
The name Gyeongbok means “Greatly Blessed by Heaven.”
The grounds were expanded over the years during the reign of King Taejong and King Sejong the Great.
The palace was abandoned for almost 300 years after being destroyed by a fire during the Japanese invasion of 1592.
The palace was reconstructed in 1867, once again making it an icon of Seoul.
On October 8, 1895, Empress Myeongseong, the wife of Emperor Gojong, was assassinated by the Japanese. Gojong, along with the royal family, never returned to the palace.
During the Japanese occupation of Korea, almost all of the palace buildings were dismantled or destroyed.
In 1926, the Japanese General Government Building was built in front of Geunjeongjeon Hall.
Other buildings were destroyed during the Korean War from 1950-1953.
Gangnyeongjeon Hall, named after the virtue of health, served as the living quarters and resting area for the king. It was first constructed in 1395. The king also met with his entourage here to discus daily activities, state affairs, and office duties.
Geunjeongjeon Hall is the main throne hall of Gyeongbokgung Palace. Originally built in 1395, it is now the largest and most formal hall at the palace. The name translate to "all affairs will be properly managed if Your Majesty demonstrate diligence."
Gwanghwamun Gate is the imposing main gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace. The gate has been rebuilt many times over the years but remains an icon of Seoul. There are three other gates that can be found along the 2,404 meters (7,887 feet) of walls surrounding the palace. The other three gates are Sinmumun, Geonchunmun, and Yeongchumun.
Gyeonghoeru Pavilion was used for entertainment when important foreign visitors visited the palace. The current structure dates back to 1867. The name Gyeonghoeru is a reference to the king and how he can succeed and be a great leader when he is surrounded by the right people.
Gyotaejeon Hall, located behind Gangnyeongjeon Hall, was the main living quarters and resting area for the queen. At the rear of Gyotaejeon Hall lies the garden of Amisan. This famous and beautiful garden features a terraced flower garden, decorated stonework, and four chimneys.
Hamwonjeon Hall was believed to have been used as the location of Buddhist events at Gyeongbokgung. The hall was built during the reign of King Sejong. Sejong was the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty and ruled from 1418 to his death in 1450.
Heumgyeonggak Pavilion, built in 1438 during the reign of King Sejong, was used by the king for astronomical and agricultural observations and research. Heumgyeong means "respectful veneration of the ways of heaven."
Heungnyemun Gate is the second gate into Gyeongbokgung. It is located just past Gwanghwamun Gate. When originally built in 1426, it was known as Hongnyemun. It was not renamed to Heungnyemun until 1867 when Gyeongbokgung Palace was rebuilt under the orders of Prince Regent Heungseon Daewongun.
Hyangwonjeong Pavilion is a two story hexagonal pavilion built on a small island in the middle of a lake on the northern grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace. It was built on an artificial island in the middle of Hyangwonji pond by by King Gojong during the 10th year of his reign in 1873. This was the same time as Geoncheonggung Residence was being built.
The National Palace Museum of Korea, located on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace, houses a collection of over 900 relics and 40,000 artifacts from the royal court of Joseon Dynasty palaces including Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, and Jongmyo.
Sinmumun Gate is the north gate of Gyeongbokgung. It protected the area from attacks from the north. It features a single entrance and one story pavilion. Construction first started in 1433 during the reign of King Sejong who ruled from 1418 to 1450 as the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty.
Sujeongjeon Hall was used as a sleeping quarter of the king and as a cabinet office during the Reform Movement of 1894. Originally, the hall located here was known as Jiphyeonjeon or Hall of Worthies. It was built by King Sejong during his reign from 1418 to 1450.
Yeongjegyo Bridge with two stone arches, is located just north of Heungnyemun Gate. The Japanese General Government Building once stood at this location. The building was the seat of the Governor-General of Korea who administered Korea under Japanese imperial rule. This building was demolished between 1995 and 1996.
Free guided tours in English are available at 11:00, 13:00, and 15:30. Meet at the information center next to the main entrance. Tours are also available in Japanese (10:00, 12:30, 14:30) and Chinese (10:30, 13:00, 15:00).