29 August 2008

An afternoon at Gyeongbok Palace

While a city sightseeing tour was on the schedule for the AQIS conference the Cloud family decided to go for a tour of their own to see the main palace in Seoul, Gyeongbokgung. The palace was first built in 1394 by King Taejo when he founded Seoul as the capital his realm. Since then it has been expanded partly destroyed and rebuilt several times. When the Japanese occupied Korea in 1911 they tore down significant parts of the palace and at present the Koreans are trying to reconstruct the complete palace.

The Pink Clouds in front of the southern gate of the palace Gwanghwamun, which was taken completely apart in order to move it to its original position from where it had been moved too make way for the Japanese Governor General Building. This huge Japanese building was demolished in 1996 to remove evidence of the Japanese occupation of Korea. Thus, all that is visible of the gate is a big decorative screen.

Anais Thima with Daddy in front of the gate to the Palace (Geunjeongmun) during the guard changing ceremony. This ceremony being held every hour is a bit of a tourist show. The enacting of the ceremony breaks once every so often so that an explanation of the unfolding event can be given in no less than 4 languages - can you guess which? (see the end of this entry for the answer =:).

Thanks to another bunch of conference participants' sightseeing on their own we have this picture of the whole family in front of the guards to the palace.

Here we're inside the Geunjeong Gate on the large square in front of the throne hall (Geunjeongjeon). Anais Thima has escaped from the push chair to explore the huge square - no cars and crowds. The scene somehow resembles a scene from Olsenbanden (Danes know what that is)!

A little lady strolls on the palace grounds.

Anais with Mummy together with a Chinese tour group on the back side of the majestic Geunjeongjeon, the largest building in the palace. It was not destroyed by the Japanese and is thus more or less in its original form.

Walking around the maze that the Palace makes up. Most of the time there are wooden ramps, as in the photo, so that its possible to get around with the push chair. However, it is often necessary to go on a small detour.

Here's one of the most picturesque places in the Palace, the Hyangwon Pond (Hyangwonji) with the Hyangwon Pavilion (Hyangwonjeong) on the central island. In the background Mount Bugaksan.

Relaxing on a sitting platform on the side of Hyangwonji. Anais is enjoying Korean traditional snack together with Mummy.

At the far northern end is the Geoncheong Palace (Geoncheonggung), which was built as an extension to the main palace. Note that the pillars have Chinese characters on them. In Korea these are called Hanja whereas the modern phonetic Korean writing is termed Hangeul. The difficulty of Hanja meant that in old days only aristocrats and learned would be literate, and it is considered a big advance that King Sejong commissioned the work to construct and later introduced the Hangeul system. At first sight Korean writing looks as confusing as Chinese characters, but after learning a few quite logical rules it actually becomes rather simple to remember the way to decipher it.

The National folk Museum of Korea is located on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung, but the buildings are not historical. The museum was constructed on the present location with inspiration from traditional Korean architecture. At this stage all of us were quite saturated with impressions from old buildings and quite happy to evacuate to the modern world.

And as promised, the 4 main tourist languages in South Korea are Korean, English, Japanese, and Chinese.

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