As the longtime capital of Korea, Seoul is home to five “Grand Palaces” that were built during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897). The biggest palace Gyeongbokgung was the home of kings and housed the main government offices. Gyeongbokgung is surrounded by massive stone walls guarded by entrance towers and once you pass the entrance tower, there is a large, open assembly ground which leads into the palace compound proper. When I went there, I was fortunate to catch an elaborate change-of-guard ceremony on the assembly ground involving dozens of traditional costumed “guards” and “officers” marching to the sound of booming drums and instruments played by similarly costumed musicians, making it feel as if we were back in the Joseon Dynasty.
The compound is vast and features a lot of buildings including the main hall, various quarters, and shrines. The most attractive building was the Gyeonghoeru banquet hall which was built atop dozens of stone pillars and stands next to a large pond. Now, it’s as impressive as the Forbidden Palace in Beijing, but there is a lot of open space with clumps of trees here and there, and mountains like Bukhansan looming in the background. Apart from the main hall and Gyeonghoeru, the other buildings weren’t so spectacular but the entire palace compound as a whole was rather attractive. However, almost all these buildings are restorations or rebuilt, since the original palace buildings were destroyed or damaged during the Japanese occupation in the early 20th century.
In the northeast corner is the National Folk museum, which exhibits folk costumes, instruments and other things used by Koreans in the past. At the side stands an interesting replica of an old-time Korean neighborhood complete with an antique tram. There’s also the National Palace Museum, which I didn’t visit, on the grounds.