Gyeongbokgung Palace was the main royal palace of Korea's Joseon Dynasty up until its destruction in Toyotomi Hideyoshi's invasions of Korea in the 1590s. Completed in 1395, its name means roughly "the Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven."
Abandoned for some 270 years, the palace was rebuilt and brought back into use by the royal family in the 1860s. It was then taken over by Japanese colonial authorities in the early 20th century.
The palace was constructed in conjunction with the relocation of the royal capital from Gaeseong to Hanyang (Seoul) in 1394; an Office of Palace Construction was established that year, and the palace itself was formally established the following year. The main gate of the palace was originally known simply as Jeongmun ("main gate") or Sajeongmun ("West Gate of Governance"), and was later renamed Gwanghwamun ("Gate of Great Illumination"), and led to Yukjo-geori, or "Six Ministries Street," today known as Sejongno.
Though originally completed in 1395 under King Taejo, the founder of the Joseon Dynasty, the palace saw numerous renovations and expansions over the centuries. The Jaseondang Hall was built within the Crown Prince's Compound in 1427, and two more structures, the Sajeongjeon Hall and Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, were built two years later. The Gwanghwamun Gate was rebuilt in 1431, and in 1434, a structure called the Borugak Hall was built, and installed with a water clock. A formal Royal Gate Guards group known as Sumunjang was established in 1469, along with a formal changing-of-the-guards ceremony; prior to this, a group called hogun (security army), part of the Five Commands (owi), oversaw the guarding of the palace.
The palace grounds were then abandoned for over 250 years, before being finally rebuilt in 1865-1867. Gyeongbokgung became the chief royal residence again in 1868, when the king moved there from the Changdeokgung Palace. A new residence, known as Geoncheonggung, was built in 1873, but much of the palace suffered from a fire three years later.
On 1895/10/8, a group of Japanese made their way into Gonnyeonghap, a building within the palace compound, and murdered Empress Myeongseong and many of her ladies-in-waiting and handmaids; reportedly, they could not be sure whether the empress was disguised as a handmaid, and so killed them all to be sure.
Gyeongbokgung became home to the chief residence of the Japanese Governor-General of Korea during the Japanese colonial occupation of Korea, and was used for a number of colonial events, such as a 1915 Joseon Production Promotion Expo, held in celebration of the fifth anniversary of Japanese control, and the 1929 Chôsen Exhibition, a colonial counterpart to the Bunten (Ministry of Education Exhibitions) being held in Tokyo.
In conjunction with the construction of the Governor-General's headquarters in 1927, the Gwanghwamun Gate was moved to the eastern side of the compound, and various other changes were made.
The palace has been restored in a number of stages over the course of the postwar period, and has become a major tourist destination.
The largest hall within the palace compound was the Geunjeongjeon Hall, which contained the chief throne room and audience hall. A two-tiered structure elevated and accessed by stone steps, it faced out onto a large open courtyard; major court events were held both in this courtyard and within the hall.
- "Gyeongbokgung Palace Tour" pamphlet and gallery labels, Seoul Incheon Airport Korean Culture Gallery.