Posted by: rbbadger | November 9, 2008

Gyeongbokgung

I’ve decided to move over to this site some of my photos that I have on the other one.  One of the things that I am fondest of here are the old royal palaces.  My favourite of them all remains Gyeongbokgung, once the head palace during the days of the Joseon dynasty, at least until it was set alight sometime in the 16th century.  This palace was restored in the 19th century through the efforts of the Regent, Heungseon Daewongun, father of King (later Emperor) Gojong.

Every gate and every building in a palace must have a name.  So, inscribed above the entrance of this gate is its name, a name which currently escapes me because I’m unsure of the Sino-Korean pronunciation of one of the characters.  Despite the fact that I am learning the characters, I often forget them, owing to the fact that daily usage of Korean no longer requires them.  There are many quite common ones that I recognise instantly.  But those that I don’t see on a daily basis I often forget, thus proving the mantra “if you don’t use it, you lose it” true.  Thus, there aren’t the same opportunities to reinforce one’s knowledge of them.  If I were teaching in say, Taiwan, it would be a different story.  This is not the main gate, but it is functioning as one now.  The main gate is currently under restoration.  It was restored in the 1960s during the presidency of Park Chung-hee.  The government decided this time to put the gate back where it was originally, remove President Park’s hangeul (Korean alphabetic script) calligraphy and replace it with calligraphy in Chinese characters done by a prince of the royal family in the 18th century.  Gwanghwamun (光化門) will reopen sometime next year. 

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In the Korean movie I saw a while back, namely Singijeon, certain scenes were shot in Gyeongbokgung itself.  It was indeed most impressive to see the recreations of life in the court of King Sejong in that movie.  The throne hall is unspeakably glorious.  It is breathtaking to see it for the first time, especially with the mountains right behind it.  Adorning the roof are the mythical creatures which were supposed to protect the palace from fire, something which Beijing’s Forbidden City didn’t even escape.  So many old palaces, temples, and other old structures were destroyed either through invasion or accidents. 

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This is the throne.  Behind the throne is a screen on which is painted the sun and moon together with the five peaks.

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On the ceiling is a representation of two dragons.  Dragons are a symbol of the king or emperor.  As such, they adorn the ceilings of throne halls.  Despite the fact that Korea is now a Republic, another favourite imperial symbol, namely two phoenixes, adorn the personal flag of the president of the Republic. 

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Eventually, I will put up other photos of the place.  It is very close to the new centre of power, namely the Cheong Wa Dae, home to the president of the Republic of Korea.  There is a pond with a magnificent pavilion.  Rhee Syngman, first president of the Republic of Korea, used to love to fish in the pond near his presidential mansion.  A small pavilion in traditional palace style was erected for his use nearby the grand pavilion that King Sejong used to use.  Like the palaces, the Cheong Wa Dae features use of blue tiles, as traditionally, only heads of state were permitted to adorn their roofs with blue tiles.  Despite becoming a Republic, some old things from the days of kingdom and empire still remain, not least among them the special palace guards who dress in traditional Korean military dress for state occasions.

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