The Small yet Serene Gyeonghuigung Palace
You can walk up Yulgok-ro and see three palaces in one day if you really wanted to here in Seoul, those being Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung and Changgyeonggung. Or walk down Saejong Dae-ro from Gyeongbokgung passing Gwangwhamun and find your fourth palace, Deoksugung. But there’s a fifth smaller and lesser known, and probably for that reason, free palace known as Gyeonghuigung (경희궁) in the vicinity as well. It’s not in the very touristy area as the others, but sits right downtown in the more businesslike area with Citibank and LG just across the street.
Its name translates to Palace of Serene Harmony and it truly lives up to the name with so few visitors meandering around.
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Construction of Gyeonghuigung began in 1617 and was completed in the 15th year of the reign of Gwanghaegun in 1623. Known as the west palace now, but officially recognized as a royal villa during the Joseon period, the palace was enjoyed by some ten Korean kings. It was originally comprised of over 100 halls, but unfortunately most of them were burnt down either during the 29th year of King Sunjo, in 1829, or during the 20th year of the reign of King Gojong, and then later the remaining halls were burnt down during the Japanese colonial period so that schools could be built on the site for Japanese children. After the liberation in 1946, Seoul High School was built on the site and remained there until 1978. Finally, in 1985 the Seoul city government decided to reconstruct the palace grounds and restoration began. However, it was not to be. The area that was once immense and only for the palace had been invaded by urban growth and there was not as much space for the government to rebuild. Only 33% of the former palace has been reconstructed since then.
Interestingly, the main hall that sits on the grounds, Sungjeongjeon, is a replica that was built in 1987 as the original had been moved to Dongguk University and was deemed too old to be moved again. It is now known as Jeonggakwon, or the Hall of Righteous Enlightenment. The main gate, Heunghwamun, was moved and installed as the main gate for Bakmunsa, which is now the Shilla Hotel and was dedicated to Ito Hirobumi, a Japanese resident-general, before being relocated back at Gyeonghuigung in 1985. Also on the grounds are Jajeongjeon and Taeryeongjeon and a large rock in the northwest corner of the grounds with spring water trickling down. It is said that this rock and spring were the reasons that Prince Gwanghae had the villa built here in the first place.
Though the palace isn’t as conveniently located in the tourist area of Insa-dong and hasn’t received an UNESCO designation, it is still worth visiting. It’s very quiet and my friend along for the trip said we should have brought a picnic along or some books to sit and read as no one would have bothered us there. Also right next door is the Seoul Museum of History, so it’s worth the trip to see both at one time.
서울특별시 종로구 신문로2가 1
1 Sinmoon-ro 2-ga Jongno-gu, Seoul, Korea
Bus: N26 , N37 , 101 , 160 , 260 , 270 , 271 , 273 , 370 , 470 , 471 , 601 , 704 , 710 , 720 , 721, 7019
Subway: Seodaemun station, exit 4 and walk straight.
Weekdays: 09:00 – 18:00
Weekends and holidays: 10:00 – 18:00
Closed on Mondays and January 1st.