Located at the corner of Seoul’s busiest downtown intersection, Deoksugung Palace is famous for its elegant stone-wall road. It is also the only palace that sits alongside a series of western style buildings that add to the uniqueness of the surrounding scenery. Deoksugung Palace originally belonged to Wolsandaegun (1454-1488), the older brother of King Seongjong (1469-1494) of the Joseon Dynasty. It became a proper palace when Gwanghaegun (1575-1641) ascended to the throne and gave this royal residence the name Gyeongungung Palace in 1611. Over the following decades, the palace alternated between being an official palace and a temporary residence. The name did not official change to Deoksugung Palace, meaning the “palace of virtuous longevity,” until 1907. While the palace incompassed a vast area with many buildings, the current palace grounds are just a small shadow of the prior splendor, with very few structures remaining.
Upon entering Deoksugung Palace through Daehanmun Gate, visitors will cross the wide bridge of Geumcheon Stream. The king’s carriage would pass over this bridge during ancient times. The legal building Junghwajeon Hall is very stately, revealing its long history. The Jeukjodang Building received its name from Gwanghaegun and In-Jo, who both ascended to the throne here. The front sign on Jeukjodang was written personally by Gojong (26th king of the Joseon Dynasty, r. 1863-1907) in 1905 after he became king. Hamnyeongjeon Hall was where Gojong slept, named with the meaning of wishing for lasting peace for Gojong. The East Wing served as the king’s room, and the west wing was for the queen.
Jeonggwanheon Hall was the first Western-style building built in the palace, completed in 1900. Gojong enjoyed drinking coffee and spending his free time here. The back of the building had secret passageways to the Russian Emissary, which still exist today. Seokjojeon Hall is the other Western-style building that still remains in Deoksugung Palace, and it was in the process of being built by a British man for his company, when in 1905 the property rights were transferred to Japan. It was finally completed in 1910. After Gojong’s death, Seokjojeon Hall became a Japanese art gallery open to the public. After the Korean Declaration of Independence, the American-Russian joint commission was held here as well in May 1946. The east wing of Seokjogwan Hall now serves as a palace treasure exhibition, and the west wing is used as part of the National Modern Art Center.
Junghwajeon Hall was the center of politics during the Korean Empire and served as the backdrop to critical discussions on national affairs among the country’s leaders. The elaborateness of the hall’s interior is said to reflect the confidence of King Gojong in his ability to effectively lead the country into the 20th century. One of the most striking parts of the building is the pair of dragons that decorates the canopy above the throne of the king. These dragons can also be seen on the ceiling of Junghwajeon Hall and were representative designs of Deoksugung Palace, the imperial palace at that time. Though Junghwajeon Hall was originally built in 1902 as a multi-roofed building, it was redesigned as a single-roofed building in 1906 after it caught on fire two years before that.