As many people who have travelled to South Korea, I spent my first (and second) stay mostly in the Seoul area. And, while I now have had the chance to travel further into South Korea, and discover new and interesting places, Seoul never stops amazing me. The amount of sightseeing one can do in Seoul is almost endless, especially as the four distinct seasons South Korea faces, give the city a totally different vibe each time of the year.
I personally was blown away by the beauty of Gyeongbokgung the first time I visited, and now that I am staying in Seoul for four months as an exchange student, visiting the other palaces is on the top of my wish list. While I have so far revisited Gyeongbokgung (as I visited during winter last time) and Deoksogung, the one palace I really want to visit during my stay here is Changgyeonggung. The reason for this, besides it beauty, it the interesting story behind the palace.
The palace was built around the middle of the 15th century and later in the same century parts have been added to it. The palace was built to be a home to the wives of preceding kings, however, it became a palace that would not only face one of the saddest stories in the royal history, namely the murder of crown prince Sado by his own father, but the palace itself has also faced many hardships during its existence.
Japanese Invasion and Occupation
Those who are familiar with Korean history, know that the relationship between Korea and Japan is a sensitive one. In the past Japan has often tried to overpower Korea, which has resulted in an invasion in the late 16th century and an occupation in the early 20th century. During the invasion in 1592 most of the buildings in Changgyeonggung place were destroyed, after which they were rebuilt. However, this was not the last time Changgyeonggung palace faced such a tragic fate. During the Japanese occupation starting in 1910 many of the buildings were also torn down by the Japanese, this time to make room for a zoo and botanical garden, renaming it Changgyeongwon, which means Changgyeong garden. This was seen as a huge insult by the Korean population.
1945 – Now
The zoo and botanical garden stayed long after the Japanese occupation ended in 1945, and the park was even expanded with an amusement park by the South Korean dictator Park Chung-Hee. As democratic leaders took over South Korea, however, it was realized how shameful it was that a palace had been turned into a zoo, and from 1983 onwards the zoo and botanical garden were relocated to Seoul Grand Park, and all other signs of Japanese occupation have been taken away over the years.
After removing all signs that pointed towards the Japanese occupation, the South Korean government reconstructed many of the buildings that were torn down by the Japanese. Changgyeonggung palace is once again a very popular place to visit, but as a palace instead of a zoo. If one has the chance to visit Seoul, Changgyeonggung palace should definitely be added to the travel itinerary, as it makes for an interesting experience, imagining that about 30 years ago, most of these buildings were used as part of a zoo.