Beijing may have the Forbidden City, but Seoul has a ready answer in the Gyeongbokgung Palace – literally Greatly blessed by Heaven (Gyeongbok) Palace (gung), it is the largest of the five great royal palaces, and was originally constructed in 1395 – three years after the founding of the Joseon dynasty. But the facts and figures do not convey the scale and grandeur of the palace, with its more than 330 buildings, tranquil lake, and sprawling grounds with the mountains in the background. But perhaps a few photos might help.
The first thing that strikes you is the contrast between the bustling glass-walled towers and huge TV screens of the city and the tranquility of the palace once you step through the gate
The next thing is how clean the place is – despite the crowds of tourists there was not a speck of litter on the ground. And although there were quite a few people, the scale of the place soon dwarfs them.
So we made our way towards the throne room – brilliantly painted and decorated, but way too dark for most point-and-shoot cameras. And with flash prohibited many despaired of capturing the sight. My secret? I used the fold-out screen and gently rested the camera against the window and set up for a long exposure – something like 3 seconds did the trick
Soon we encountered a pavillion set in a tranquil lake, with carp taking care of the water quality and keeping the algae and mosquitoes down. Mind you, in Autumn that is simply not an issue.
Another long exposure gave the water a mirror finish despite the minor ripples from a gentle breeze.
The Palace – being made from wood – suffered from fires, and was twice largely destroyed by the Japanese in 1592 and again in 1915. The current restoration and reconstruction has been ongoing since 1990. Early fire fighting methods included the positioning at regular intervals of huge bronze vessels containing water which could be bucketed by hand to put out any small fires before they spread too far.
Are your feet aching yet? Well there is a small tea and souvenirs shop with western-style toilets for your comfort. I strongly recommend the green tea – so refreshing!
Parts of the palace are quite labyrinthine and soon we found ourselves in hidden courtyards and strange passages – you could easily imagine a complex life here
And so we turned back towards the entrance through long cloisters
and back towards the modern world