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.
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.
This palace is included with the Integrated Ticket of Palaces.
Closed on Tuesdays.
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.
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.
It was decided that Changdeokgung Palace would be rebuilt and serve as the new main royal residence.
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.
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.
- Only a few buildings from the 19th century survived both the Japanese occupation and the Korean War. The surviving buildings include are Geunjeongjeon Hall, Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, and Hyangwonjeong Pavilion.
- Restoration work began in 1989.
- In 1995, the Japanese General Government Building was demolished.
- Today, there are two museums located on the grounds of the palace. They are the National Folk Museum of Korea and the National Palace Museum of Korea.
- As of 2014, less than half of the buildings have been restored to their former glory.