Seoul’s royal palaces suffered greatly during the time of the Japanese occupation. The largest of them, Gyeongbokgung, suffered quite a few losses as well. While the complex of buildings is indeed impressive to look at, it is but a shell of what it once was. More than half of the buildings were razed.
The main gate leading into the place is known as Gwanghwamun (光化門). During the Japanese occupation, it was moved to the side to make way for the Japanese government building which would later serve as the National Assembly building of the Republic of Korea until the 1970s. The gate was destroyed during the Korean War. Following the war, the governement of Park Chung-hee rebuilt it, complete with a calligraphic plaque in hangeul written by President Park himself. President Park, like educated Korean men of his time, was a skilled calligrapher.
It was decided to move the gate back to its original location following the demolition of the Japanese government building in 1996. Also, it was decided to rebuild the gate strictly on historical principles. Like all the other buildings in the palace complex, it is brightly painted with those complex patterns known as dancheong. A new calligraphic plaque was done, this time in Chinese characters. During the time of the rebuilding, the gate was covered by a big, ugly metal structure that looked like this.
It is not very appealing, is it? The new Gwanghwamun was unveiled to the public on Liberation Day, August 15th. I must say that the results are impressive and I am happy that downtown Seoul now has something to rival Beijing’s Tian’anmen Gate. (And happiest of all, it lacks a huge portrait of a dictator on it, too!)