World of travel: Ancient Park in Skyscrapers' city
February 20, 2008
One of the most attractive features in the city of Seoul (and Korea) is how both the old and the new coexist. It is Seoul's biggest selling point as a city to attract visitors, which is exactly why after touring Seoul, this palace came to the top of the list as a 'must-see' when my American friend visited Korea for the first time.
This United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization world heritage site showed me that it definitely deserves this honorable title, not only for its tranquil beauty in architecture and exquisite use of space, but also for excellent preservation after hundreds of years.
There are many palaces in Seoul, all of which I have been to, but I honestly believe Changdeokgung Palace has the most original character that stands out by far because of its superior landscape design.
Changdeokgung Palace was originally built in 1405 during the Chosun Dynasty under King Taejong's reign, but was destroyed by Japanese invasion in the late 1500s. However, it would soon be reconstructed and functioning as the main royal palace for the longest period in Chosun history. It is often compared to Gyungbokgung, another royal palace in history, but if Gyungbokgung is known as the palace of grandeur, Changdeonkgung is known as the palace of charms.
There are 13 buildings remaining on the palace grounds and 28 pavilions in the gardens, occupying 110 acres. The building sites only cover about one-sixth of the actual grounds. The rest is like a natural path in a big park. It is called 'Huwon,' which means secret garden, where royals would take walks.
The most amazing view you will see is looking beyond the path at the modern buildings in downtown Seoul, while standing right in the middle of silent greenery and surrounded by buildings that were built many centuries ago.
The palace is open to the public only on a guided tour basis, so it requires a bit of planning. Perhaps I was lucky to meet this particular tour guide. My guide's witty explanation of the buildings and hidden meanings in the detail of the architecture made an 80-minute tour very enjoyable. Not to mention her surprisingly good English, which you don't encounter very often.
Even if you are not too keen on history, take it as a good stroll around an ancient park. You will get the sense of Korean beauty and find out why it's called the 'Land of the Morning Calm.'