Episode 4: Changdeokgung Palace Complex

In 1997, UNESCO unanimously approved the inscription of Changdeokgung Palace to its list of World Heritage Sites.
It is the only Korean palace with the UNESCO world heritage title and it was the most loved palace among Joseon kings.

Changdeokgung Palace was built in 1405, the 5th year of King Taejong, as a secondary palace.
In contrast to a main palace where the king resided and administered state affairs, a secondary palace was used in case of fire or other disasters.

During the 500-year Joseon Dynasty, kings lived at the secondary palace of Changdeokgung for 258 years.
They lived there because the main palace of Gyeongbokgung was burned down by a Japanese invasion in 1592. But Changdeokgung was loved by the kings because it was a familiar and beautiful palace that was naturally arranged in line with the surrounding mountain range and geographical features.

Passing through Donhwamun Gate, which is the two-storied main gate of the palace, a rainbow-shaped stone bridge called Geumcheongyo comes into sight.
Buildings inside the palace include the Injeongjeon Hall, which is a majestic structure facing south, the Seonjeongjeon Hall where the king engaged in work, and the Daejojeon Hall that was the official residence of the queen.

Beautifully harmonized with nature, the royal buildings are full of atmosphere and charm.
Built along the mountain range, every single building looks as though it had existed there since the forest was created. In fact, Korean ancestor’s scientific wisdom is embedded in every nook and cranny of the palace.

No, not this way! The king ordered us to create the yard of the Injeongjeon Hall in a way to highlight his dignity. But how on earth can we do that?
Right, Injeongjeon isn’t an ordinary hall. At the hall, court officials offer their wishes to the king and sometimes, the king meets foreign envoys. So, his face should shine brightly. But, how can we do that?
Well, I’ve pondered various methods. And it seems in order to illuminate the king’s face in every direction, we must install something that makes things shine near the platform where he sits.
Right, then what about laying wide and thin stones on the yard? When the sunlight shines down on the stone pavement, the sunlight will scatter in different directions. It will make the floor of the Injeongjeon Hall brighter.

The wide and thin granite stones called bakseok contain quartz, which is the main ingredient of glass, as well as glossy white mica. The stone pavement diffuses the sunlight in various directions and highlights the king’s face.
The hall is equipped with a special sound system as well.
Unlike other buildings, the eaves of the hall are curved upward to reflect the sound across the courtyard. So whenever the king spoke on the platform called woldae the sound spread throughout the yard.
Passing by the scientifically-designed royal buildings in a natural setting, you can see another wonderful space where man-created beauty blends with nature.

Huwon, the rear garden, is nestled in the remotest, northern part of the palace.
Some 160 different species of trees grow in the large garden that takes up 60 percent of the entire palace area, spanning 430-thousand square meters.
The first pond you see in the garden is Buyongji.
There is another pond called Aeryeongji, meaning “the pond of love for lotus flower.” In the garden, you can also find Gwanramjeong Pavilion. The beautiful pavilion has a fan-shaped roof, with the word “Gwanram” meaning “watching a ship sail.”
Another pavilion, Chwihanjeong, is surrounded by pine trees. These are just some of the ponds and pavilions that are integrated beautifully with the surrounding landscape in the garden.
The garden is filled with some 290-thousand artificially planted trees, with the ponds and pavilions built and arranged by people.
But the landscape techniques are so precise that it feels like the garden is situated deep in the mountains. The highly sophisticated design created an amazing garden, boasting something that is far beyond natural beauty.

Crown Prince, the sun is sinking. What are you doing here at Soyojeong Pavilion? This is the remotest area in Huwon.
Father, it’s pleasant to see you here. While watching the Okryucheon Stream flowing along the pavilions, it feels like my body is part of nature. I was unaware of the passage of time.
So, you have realized that nature and humans are not two different things but one. How commendable of you to think that way. But there is one more thing you have to bear in mind.
What is that?
Just like this garden that follows with the laws of nature, the king should become one with the world. Only then, can the people lead comfortable lives.

Huwon, the rear garden of Changdeokgung Palace, is more than just a resting place. It shows the king’s love for his people.
For a long time, a number of kings stayed and took care of state affairs at this palace that assimilates with nature.
The monarchs worked hard to find the right politics to benefit people at the palace. This love and effort shows the Joseon Dynasty’s philosophy and heart.