Changdeokgung Palace Complex

Changgyeong PalaceVisited: Mar 2011, Sept 2012, Apr 2013, Oct 2013

Site Type: Cultural

Inscribed: 1997

Background and Opinion:

Changdeokgung was built in the early 1400s (like 1411 or 12, I forget) as a secondary palace to my absolute favorite place in all of Korea, Gyeongbok Palace. It was totally a back-up place to stuff the in-laws when the king was just not having it or was in a generally bad mood.  You see, the Joseon Dynasty in Korea was established in 1392 during a time when Korea had more money and manpower than they knew what to do with. As a result, they started building a crapload of stuff including the Seoul Wall and its 8 gates, two palaces, the Jongmyo Shrine, and well, you get the idea.

Changdeok Palace 2

Long before the Japanese were busy trying to re-write history and steal Dokdo, they were invading Korea every few centuries or so. In one particular war (of 1592-8), they ended up burning Gyeongbokgung to the ground and the official crib for the Korean king became Changdeokgung (you lucky palace you!). Don’t worry, Admiral Yi ends up tearing Japan a new one at the end of the war.

This large cup known as a DeuMeu used to be filled with water. It is said to scare off evil spirits when they look at their reflections. Realistically, historians think it served a practical purpose too. Fires were all too common, especially when you build everything out of wood.
This large cup known as a DeuMeu used to be filled with water. It is said to scare off evil spirits when they look at their reflections. Realistically, historians think it served a practical purpose too. Fires were all too common, especially when you build everything out of wood.

Why is Cheongdeokgung so Awesome?

This palace has pretty much everything you expect from a bad ass pad a king can call a home. There is an awesome gate out front with numerous side doors to sneak out.

The Changgyeonggung Gate
The Changgyeonggung Gate

There’s a huge throne room for the king to sit in and contemplate how awesome it is to eat kamjatang all day (because that’s what I’d do).

King's Throne Changgeyonggung

He also has a blue roofed study that was so cool, even the current democratic government copied it for the Blue House.

Blue House - Changdeokgung
The original blue house!

There are also a number of tablets with some ancient pictographic language no one can even understand (just kidding Chinese, you know I love you).

Changgyeong Tablets
This is actually Changgyeong Palace, but the tablets are identical.

This spot even comes backed with its own secret (but not so secret) garden out back.

The garden isn't as amazing as it sounds, but it does have some pretty nice spots.
The garden isn’t as amazing as it sounds, but it does have some pretty nice spots.

Hell, there is even a shrine across the street holding the spirits of the king’s ancestors. So, what home is lucky enough to be neighbors with such a fantastic palace? ANOTHER FREEKEN PALACE! That’s right, Changdeok Palace is adjacent to Changgyeong Palace, and no, I have no idea why, but you do have to pay twice to see them both -_-. Don’t worry, the other palace is a buck or two.

Secret Garden 2 Changdeok

But there IS Sad News

Unfortunately, Changdeokgung is not the most original palace out there. In fact, only about a third of the buildings remain from before the Japanese occupation (1910-1945). Much like the Cardassians when they invaded Bajor, the Japanese were a little too good at destroying, raping and pillaging. However, it is still quite a spectacle and one sight you shouldn’t miss in South Korea (especially if you are checking off World Heritage Sites like me!)

The absolute best time to go is during the 2 weeks in April when cherry blossoms are in full bloom.
The absolute best time to go is during the 2 weeks in April when cherry blossoms are in full bloom.
Seriously, those flowers are off the hook.
Seriously, those flowers are off the hook.

Evaluation (In other words, time to get REAL!)

1) Completeness and Originality (8 out of 15): I think even an 8 is kind of  generous.

2) Extensiveness of the Site (5.5 out of 15): Two hours is definitely enough if you aren’t taking pictures like crazy. The secret garden is by tour only which takes about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how enthusiastic the guide is about how cool the trees are.

3) Cultural Significance (8 out of 25): On top of being the main palace, it also served as an example of Korean architecture for generations to come.

4) Personal Impact (10 out of 15): Definitely recommended.

Children prepare for a reenactment of life in the palace.
Children prepare for a reenactment of life in the palace.

5) Logistics (10 out of 10): It is in central Seoul, costs about 4 bucks, and has about 50 buses that pass right in front of it. Unless you are a complete moron, you will have no trouble finding it. Just as a note though, the map on the homepage (which is only viewable on computer and not your phone) is extremely accurate if you just zoom in. I go through great troubles to put the cursor right on top of each World Heritage Site, so make sure you use it!

On top of this, they offer free English guides on site, or you can “pre-order” them from a group of volunteers through Korea’s official tourism website. How cool is that?

6) Uniqueness (3 out of 20): Yes, it is the most important palace in Korea. However, there are 5 other palaces in the SAME CITY. That’s no exaggeration (Gyeongbok Palace, Changgyeong Palace, Deoksu Palace, Gyeonnghui Palace, and Unhyeon Palace) and only counts the ones I know of.


Combined Score: 44.5/100

Changdeok Palace 3
Hello, Cheongdeok here… call me, maybe?

 

Is this a good score? Find out how it compares with other UNESCO World Heritage Sites in our rankings.

Curious how the scores are derived? Check out the scoring criteria.

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Julio Moreno

Julio is a California native who has lived abroad since 2009 as an expat in South Korea and New Zealand. He is especially passionate about experiencing other cultures and visiting as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as possible.
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