Changdeok Palace: The Palace of Illustrious Virtue
Changdeok Palace (창덕궁), translated to mean the “Palace of Illustrious Virtue”, was the principal palace for many of the Joseon kings and sitting just up the street from the more famous Gyeongbuk Palace, it warrants a visit any season of the year with one of the most beautiful gardens in the city.
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Designated as an UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997, it is the most well preserved of the five remaining palaces in the city and offers up a chance for visitors to learn about tradition, architecture and Korean culture. The palace was built just after the construction of Gyeongbuk Palace in 1405 and was completed it 1412 keeping the ideas of Feng Shui in mind while at the same time harmonizing with the nature that surrounded it rather than dominating the land like the other four palaces that remain today.
King Taejo, the first king of the Joseon Dynasty who took his seat in 1392 had eight sons, six with his first wife and two with his second, and for this story the two sons to know are Yi Bang-Gwa who would become King Jeongjong and Yi Bang-Won who would become King Taejong. Of the eight sons, the king favored his youngest, who was neither Bang-Gwa nor Bang-Won which did not sit well with the elder princes. In 1398, Bang-Won led a coup and killed the two youngest sons from the second wife and pushed to have his older brother Bang-Gwa become the crowned prince as he was older and was intended to take the throne. Their father, disgusted, named Bang-Gwa the crowned prince and abdicated his throne to him shortly after. Yi Bang-Gwa became King Jeongjong, moved the capital from Seoul, then Hanyang, to Gaesong and all was good until just two years later when a conflict arose between Bang-Won and another one of his brothers. Bang-Won attacked his elder brother, defeated him and sent him into exile with his family. King Jeongjong seeing this, named his younger brother Bang-Won the crown prince and realizing that he was leading from the former capital, abdicated his throne to his brother just two years after he’d become king.
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Once King Taejong took over power, the capital city of Seoul, then Hanyang, was restored and King Taejong moved into Changdeok Palace instead of the primary Gyeongbuk Palace. This was done due to the fact that he had had his half brothers killed on the grounds of Gyeongbuk and the palace had been built by one of his original rivals. All in all, a bad history made Changdeok Palace look like a more pleasant place to reside. King Taejong ended up reigning for eighteen years, far longer than the two years of his brother and the six years of his father. Ultimately, Changdeok Palace served as the main seat of the dynasty for more than 250 years and saw some thirteen kings walk through its gates.
Though the palace was later burnt down by an angry mob of citizens in 1592 when the royal family fled to escape from the Japanese Invasion, it was rebuilt and restored in 1611 only to be burnt down once again in 1623 during a political revolt against King Injo. The palace was later attacked by Manchu Qing but, each time the palace was rebuilt and restored, the original design was kept in tact. The garden that sits behind the palace is the largest draw for visitors and ever since it was established during the reign of King Taejong, the powers that be have tried to keep it as natural as possible. Because of this, only tours allow visitors to walk through the Secret Garden to preserve the original sanctity of the area.
Changdeok Palace was the site of the royal court and the main seat of government up until 1868 and the last Emporer of Korea, Sunjong, resided in the palace until his death in 1926. Though Gyeongbuk Palace is seen as the more formidable and dominating palace in the city, Changdeok Palace has just as much, if not more, to say historically and is revered as the more beautiful palace to visit.
서울특별시 종로구 와룡동 2-71
2-71 Waryong-dong Jongno-gu, Seoul, Korea
Subway: Anguk Station, exit 3. Walk straight for a couple blocks and the palace will become visible on the left.
Bus: 109, 151, 162, 171, 172, 272, 7025
Days: Open everyday except for Mondays.
Hours: (Last ticket purchase available 1 hour before closing for the regular tour and 2 hours before closing for the Secret Garden.)
February ~ May & September – October: 9:00am – 6:00pm
June ~ August: 9:00am – 6:30pm
November ~ January: 9:00am – 5:30pm
The Secret Garden: (by guided tour only)
February ~ May & September – October: 10:00am – 5:30pm
June ~ August: 10:00am – 6:00pm
November ~ January: 10:00am – 4:30pm
General Tours: Adult: W3,000; Youth (age 7-18): W1,500
Secret Garden Tours: Adult: W8,000; Youth: W5,500
Children 6 years old and under, Seniors over 65 and every month on the last Wednesday there is free admission. (This does not include the Secret Garden.)
General Tours: Takes 1 hour
Korean: March ~ October: 9:30am , 11:30am , 1:30pm, 3:30pm, 4:30pm; November ~ February: 9:30am , 11:30am , 1:30pm, 3:30pm
English: 10:30am & 2:30pm
The Secret Garden Guided Tours: Takes 90 minutes. There are only 100 tickets available for these tours. 50 tickets can be booked in advance online while 50 tickets will be held for walk-ups and are sold at the ticket office on the day.
Korean: Throughout the year there are 6 to 9 tours a day generally starting on the hour from 10:00am throughout the year.
English: February ~ October: 11:30am, 1:30pm, 3:30pm; November ~ January: 11:30am & 1:30pm
Japanese: 10:30am & 2:30pm
Amenities: parking, restrooms, cafe, water fountains, free wheelchair rental, baby stroller rental