A wedding fit for a prince, at a price fit for a pauper

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A wedding fit for a prince, at a price fit for a pauper


Everyone here knows Korea’s wedding halls, which provide everything necessary for a wedding in one convenient location for one inconvenient price, are uniformly gaudy. But what fewer people know is that there is an alternative to being married in a faux palace with tacky plastic pillars and pseudo-Romanic motifs: getting married in a real palace.
Two palaces ― Seoul’s Unhyeon Palace in Jongro and Suwon’s Haeng Palace in Hawseong Fortress ― are now hosting traditional wedding services. Not only are the surroundings far more tasteful than the typical wedding hall, the services are much cheaper and more flexible.
The ceremonies offered are done in the style of the Joseon Dynasty royals. Participants can rent elegant silk costumes, an officiator and attendants, giving the ceremony an authentic feel.
Unhyeon Palace began hosting weddings in 1999. This was a rather speedy adaptation to public life for the compound; in 1992, the city bought it from Lee Cheong, the great-great grandson of Heungseon Daewongun, King Gojong’s father. The palace was opened to the public in 1996.
Jeong Geung-mo, an official at Myungwon Cultural Foundation, which manages the palace, said the city wanted people to be able to have aristocratic weddings, and there was not better place to do so than Unhyeon Palace, where King Gojeong married Queen Myeongseong (the two were the last reigning monarchs of Korea).
Though weddings at Unhyeon Palace follow the basic outline of a historical aristocratic affair (not the king’s wedding), the cultural foundation has modified the procedures a little to add more flavor. The bride wears a nokwonsam, a dress worn by Joseon Dynasty queens, while the groom wears the official robes of a dangsanggwan, a high-ranking official.
The bride’s handmade silk dress would normally cost 6 million won ($6,300). Guests and parents of bride and groom are encouraged to wear their own hanbok (Korean traditional clothing).
Unhyeon Palace lay at the center of the turbulent history of the late Joseon Dynasty. It was the home of King Gojong’s father, Heungseon Daewongun, who acted as a regent and kept Korea’s closed-door policy in place until 1876. Nowadays, the palace is so small that it is often overlooked, but when the Daewongun was in his prime, the palace covered 39,669 square meters (nearly 10 acres), five times its current size.

The wedding ceremonies takes place in Norakdang, the main hall of Unhyeon Palace, in which Queen Myeongseong took bridal courses from her future mother-in-law. Those who want to see what they’re getting into can watch a reproduction of the royal wedding ceremony performed for visitors every second Saturday in April and October.
Haeng Palace, in contrast, has only been offering weddings for only a few months now, though on a larger scale.
The palace was built to be used for King Jeongjo when he was away from Seoul ― which was fairly often (the king went on long journeys 13 times during his 12 years on the throne). This is considered one of the best temporary palaces built during Joseon Dynasty and was constructed on Mount Paldal between 1794 and 1796.
“We wanted to make Haeng Palace more alive,” said Kim Ki-bae, an official at the Hwaseong Fortress Authority. “There are no people living in the palace anymore. If we are going to use the palace at all, we should make the best use of it.”
Haeng Palace was restored and opened to the public in 2003. The weddings there follow the formula for the marriage of a prince or princess, and are thus larger than those done at Unhyeon Palace. Fourteen assistants dressed up in costumes from the Joseon Dynasty participate in the ritual, four of whom are “court ladies” and six of whom are “attendants” holding flags or parasols. The bride and groom wear special clothing used for Joseon Dynasty state ceremonies: The groom wears a myeonbok (a robe) and crown and the bride puts on jeokui (a dress) and stick-on braided bun.


Traditional Korean weddings are full of symbols and formalities to express the seriousness of the bond, as well as to wish the couple marital bliss.
One common symbol used is a wooden carving of a goose, which is supposed to be carried by a friend of the groom. Geese are thought to mate for life; if its partner dies, a goose will not find a new mate. Yin-yang symbols are also common, given that marriage was considered to be a binding of yin, woman, and yang, man. The yin-yang shows up in number of things, most obviously in that the bride wears a blue costume and faces east, while the groom wears red and faces west. By doing so, they were believed to have “truly” entered into a union.
Traditionally, the wedding took place in the bride’s house. It would start with the groom arriving at the house alongside a man carrying the wooden goose. The groom would enter the house and hand the goose to the bride’s family. The bride and her mother would come out of the main building of the house (which would usually comprise separate buildings), and the bride would be escorted to one side of a table. She would then light a blue candle while the groom lit a red one. They would then dip their hands in water, take turns bowing on their knees to each other and exchange goblets containing alcohol. They would then pour the alcohol into a gourd ladle and drink it, symbolizing the finding of their other half. The marriage was then announced.
Unhyeon Palace hosts 30 to 50 weddings a year, usually around spring or fall. But who chooses to have a traditional wedding?
“It’s usually couples who want their wedding to be unique,” Mr. Jeong said. “There are also many couples of one Korean and one non-Korean who want to experience traditional culture.”
One example is Nathaniel Presson, pictured above, who came to Korea from France and married a Korean woman.
Mr. Jeong said the palace weddings had several advantages over those done at wedding halls. They’re not rushed to make way for the next couple getting married. The options and planning are more flexible than in most wedding halls. They’re also cheaper: A wedding at Unhyeon Palace costs only 900,000 won, including costume rentals ― compare that with several million won for the average wedding hall. Couples can arrange wedding receptions and photograph taking on their own.
The wedding at Haeng Palace in Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon is a little more expensive, because of a greater number of attendants and more sophisticated costumes. The ceremony usually costs around 3 million won. The wedding service just started this year and there has been only one wedding so far, according to the Hwaseong office.

by Limb Jae-un

To reserve a wedding at Unhyeon Palace, call (02) 766-9090 or 9094, or visit www.unhyungung.com. For a weddings at Haeng Palace in Suwon, call (031) 228-4410~4 or go to http:// hs.suwon.ne.kr.
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