The restoration of Gyeongbok Palace

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The restoration of Gyeongbok Palace

Gyeongbok Palace was restored over the past 30 years. [NEWS1]

Gyeongbok Palace was restored over the past 30 years. [NEWS1]

The author is a national news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“Fantastic,” “Beautiful,” “Unbelievable!”

Exclamations that could only be heard on television shows burst out. Two years ago, I had to “treat” jetlagged Harvard Business School students to Gyeongbok Palace in central Seoul. As we toured the palace, the initially bored students became more interested and were completely mesmerized by the time the tour wrapped up.

They were fascinated by Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, our last stop. The pond and the pavilion were the highlight of the tour. But only 30 years ago, the palace evoked no admiration. It was quite shabby as the devastation from the Japanese colonial period was not restored.

Gyeongbok Palace was the royal residence of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), but it was abandoned a number of times. In 1395, the palace was built in the new capital of Hanyang, now Seoul. But since the second King Jeongjong decided to move the capital back to Kaesong, the capital of the Koryo Dynasty (918-1392), the new place was abandoned. King Taejong moved the capital back to Hanyang, but he was reluctant to return to the palace, where he slaughtered his younger brothers. As he built Changdeok Palace nearby, the place was abandoned once again. During the Japanese Invasion in 1592, Gyeongbok Palace was abandoned by King Seonjo and the people. After the king secretly fled, the abandoned people vented out their anger by burning down the palace.

In 1867, the fourth year of King Gojong, Prince Regent Heungseon carried out a restoration project, rebuilding more than 500 buildings in the space that were in ruins for nearly 300 years.

But the glory did not last. The Japanese Government-General of Korea built a gigantic office building at Gwanghwamun, the main gate of the palace, and demolished many buildings. The palace survived with only 36 buildings and got little attention as the people were busy making a living after the liberation.

The restoration started in 1991. Starting with Gangnyeongjeon and Gyotaejeon, restoration continued through Gwanghwamun, Donggung, Heungryemun, Taewonjeon, Geoncheonggung and Sojubang, and the palace began to look grand. Celebrating the 30th anniversary of the restoration, a special exhibition was oepned at the National Palace Museum on Dec. 1.

It would be meaningful to visit the exhibition that will continue until Feb. 27. It will be a perfect visit if you stop at Hyangwonjeong that was recently reopened after restoration.

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