On the outskirts of Bukchon Hanok Village was Gyeonbokgung Palace. On my visit to the country’s capital eleven years ago, I’d toured two of the six palaces in Seoul and found the architecture and layout similar. This complex however, seemed larger and without a map, I wandered it’s many buildings that felt like I was moving through a maze.
Not long after the founding of the Joseon Dynasty in 1392, this palace became the hub for the dynasty’s politics and economy. The main gate led to Geujeongjeon Hall where official business such as cabinet meetings, receptions for foreign envoys and royal events were conducted.
Beyond lay a warren of complexes including the king’s living quarters, the queen’s residence, the library, another hall to welcome foreign envoys, a building for religious rituals and the kitchen spread out like a city within a city.
Sadly, much lay in ruins for nearly 300 years after the Japanese army invaded Korea in 1592 and burnt the palace. In 1820 restoration began on some 500 buildings that included offices and residences for both the king and government officials. But during Japanese occupation from 1910-1945 this site was again demolished.
Over the last thirty years the government has begun to restore the palace to its former glory. During my visit, I noticed walled off sections. It was clear that the once beautiful pool that surrounded one of the buildings was undergoing restoration. Despite this, there was still more than enough to give a visitor a sense of this country’s glorious past.