Korean Cultural Insight
Aesthetics of Harmony with Nature
Royal palaces symbolized state sovereignty and regal authority as official residences of kings where they lived and governed. Seoul, the seat of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), has five royal palaces: Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, Deoksugung and Gyeonghuigung. Some of these palaces were built as replacements for those lost in wars or fires, and some when the royal family needed more living space.
Changdeok Palace, or the “Palace of Illustrious Virtue,” is nestled in a compound of some 480,000 square meters that sprawls around the foot of Mt. Eungbong, sitting in front of Bohyeon Peak with Mt. Bukhan in the distant background. Its numerous halls and pavilions were laid out rather freely to harmonize with the natural contours of the surrounding hilly terrain. The site plan markedly differed from the traditional Chinese-oriented style of palatial construction, which, as exemplified by Gyeongbok Palace, typically had a symmetrical arrangement of major halls and gates along the north-south axis on flat ground. The mountain palace lacked a man-made axis regulating its spatial layout. Instead, it followed native Korean values emphasizing harmony with nature, resulting in an intriguingly flexible ground plan.
Changdeok Palace today looks far different from its original appearance as depicted in the “Picture of the Eastern Palace” (Donggwol do), drawn around 1830. A highly valuable cultural asset itself, the court-style documentary painting provides an accurate view of Changdeok and Changgyeong palaces in the eastern part of the old capital city. Both palaces have not only been reduced considerably in scale but distorted in shape, due to the ruthless destruction that occurred under Japanese rule during the early 20th century. Palace structures were removed or turned into entertainment venues; some were moved from one palace to another.
Blending in with the topography, Changdeok Palace follows the basic geomantic (pungsu) principle of an ideal home with a mountain at the back and water in the front. Still, the site plan faithfully reflects the three major rules of palatial construction. That is, government offices are placed in the outer court and the private residence of the royal family is in the inner quarters behind; the royal palace is behind nine gates, with the king’s quarters surrounded by many layers of buildings and courtyards for the sake of security; and the eastern section of the palace is reserved for the crown prince, a symbol of rising power, and the queen dowager and other senior ladies of the royal family.
The grounds of Changdeok Palace are largely divided into four areas: the entrance area, the office area, the royal residence, and a rear garden.
The entrance area has two major features - the main entranceway, Donhwamun, meaning the “gate of sincere edification,” on the southern edge of the palace compound and the front courtyard where the Geumcheon, the “forbidden stream,” flows through. Outside the palace grounds, the stream joins the Cheonggyecheon flowing through the old city, symbolizing the unity of the king and the people.
The stone bridge spanning the “forbidden stream” represents the first step into the royal sanctuary. It is also the gateway to the office area, which has the Office of Special Advisors (Hongmungwan), the Office of Royal Scribes (Yemungwan) and the Royal Infirmary (Naeuiwon), among other government offices. All of the court offices have been restored since 1991 after being removed during the colonial period. Lording over these court offices are the Hall of Benevolent Governance (Injeongjeon), the throne hall, where many important state events were conducted throughout the Joseon period, and the Hall of Administering Governance (Seonjeongjeon) which served as the king’s offices.
The royal residence comprises the bedchambers of the king and the queen as well as the palaces of the crown prince and queen dowager. The king and queen’s bedchambers, named Huijeongdang (Hall of Joyful Rule) and Daejojeon (Hall of Great Creation), occupy the innermost quarters of the palace. The crown prince’s residence, Junghuidang (Hall of Immense Joy), no longer exists; only a pavilion and part of a cloister remain. The queen dowager’s residence comprises Nakseonjae (House of Joy and Goodness), Seokbokheon (House of Frugal Happiness) and Sugangjae (House of Health and Longevity), all built during the reign of Heonjong in the early 19th century.
The rear garden, called huwon, or bugwon, meaning the “northern garden,” is the largest and most beautiful royal garden of the Joseon period. It was a favorite place for outdoor activities for the members of the Joseon royal family.
Insadong has been located in very center of Seoul for the past 600 years since the Joseon Dynasty. It resembles a museum. Where you can vividly see the lives and history of Koreans. Insadong has also gained fame as the center of Korean art due to the existence of Dohwaseo, the supreme government office for art during the Joseon Dynasty, Accordingly, the most famous artists of the time could actively participate in artistic activities here at Insadong.
The last dynasty of Korea was the Joseon Dynasty. During the Joseon Dynasty, Seoul was called “Hanyang” and the city remained as the capital of Joseon from 1934 to 1910. During the Joseon period, Seoul was divided into north and south by a small stream called “Cheonggyecheon”. The areas in the north and the south of Cheonggyecheon were each called “bukchon”(meaning north Village)and “Namchon”(Southern Village). According to traditional Fengshui principles ( which is a principle of geomancy ), a place with a mountain in the back and a river flowing in the front was regarded as the best location, and that is why Gyeongbokgung Palace and Changdeokgung Palace were built in between Bukhansan Mountain and Cheonggyecheon. Insadong was a village formed near the stream between Gyeongbokgung Palace and many historically famous officials and scholars lived here.
Japanese Colonization started in 1910, which led to the collapse of the social elite group “Yangban”. The pottery, ancient books, and other antiques previously owned by Yanbans ended up being sold in Insadong. This consequently made the area a famous street for antique storea. After the Japanese Government-General of Korea was established near Insadon, some of Korean traditional antiques were transferred to Japan. Moreover, there are numerous historic landmarks in Insadong, especially as it was the base for Korea’s 3.1 Independence Movement.
As antiques, galleries, and paper stores accounted for a substantial part of Insadong Street in the late 1960s, the first modern galleries started to appear in Insadong during 1970s, forming a gallery street. As the village became a meeting place for artists and art lovers, various traditional tea houses and restaurants started to open.
The insa Traditional Culture Preservation Association was founded in 1987 and Insadong was designated as Korea’s first culture district, Gradually, Insadong transformed into a traditional culture street, filled with numerous antique stores, galleries, craft stores, calligraphy stores, Korean restaurants, and traditional tea houses. Every spring and fall, various events such as ancient / modern art exhibitions and traditional music performances are held as part of the insa Korea Art & Culture Festival, Furthermore, with its designation as a ‘Car-free Street’ and ‘Street of Traditional Culture’, Insadong strives to become a living folk museum.
The Namdaemun Market
The Namdaemun Market facing Sungnyemun, the National Treasure No. 1, is a traditional market that is far from the ordinary.
The origin of the Namdaemun Market can be traced all the way to the government-chartered market in 1414, the 14th year of King Taejong’s reign.
After the liberation from Japan, the Namdaemun Market Trader Union was founded. In 1964, the Namdaemun Market was transformed into a corporation invested by both the owners of the buildings and the merchants, boasting 600 years of its history.
In 2014, we celebrated the 600th anniversary of the Namdaemun Market. This traditional market dates back to 1914 when the government made public lands available for renting out to some merchants.
In 1609 (the 41st year of King Seonjo’s reign), the office of seonhyecheong (tribute bureau) was set up in the district where Namchang-dong is now located and commercial activities flourished as traders started to commercial activities flourished as traders started to sell various goods including local specialty products.
Along with the implementation of daedongbeop (Uniform Land Tax Law), the office of seonhyecheong was established to manage the tributes of rice, cloth, and money. In 1987, this marketplace started to play its role as Korea’s first modern permanently established market in laying the groundwork for business transactions.
The Namdaemun Market survived through the Japanese colonial rule of Korea, the Korean War, and two fire outbreaks in 1954, 1968, and 1977, respectively. There were times when things were incredibly difficult, but the market has quickly recovered its losses and have evidently become the best and largest market in Korea.
The Namdaemun Market is a place full of life for 24 hours for 365 days, attracting an average of 0.4 million visitors a day. The Namdaemun Market is a place full of life for 24 hours for 365 days, attracting an average of 0.4 million visitors a day. Not so far from where the market is located, you can find important places in Seoul, such as Shinsegae Department Store and Bank of Korea, as well as famous tourist attractions like Jeongdong-gil, Myeong-dong, Namsan Tower, and Namsan Hanok Village. That is why many foreigners visit the Namdaemun Market. About 10,000 stores of the Namdaemun Market around the Sungnyemun Gate attract many tourists every day. There are even some expressions like “If you cannot find something in the Namdaemun Market, you will never be able to find it in Seoul” and “The Namdaemun Market has everything but the (imaginary) cat horn.” In the Namdaemun Market, you can find more than 1,700 items for your day-to-day life encompassing clothes for men, women, and children, accessories, kitchenware, folkcrafts, food, miscellaneous goods, and agricultural and fishery products.
The Namdaemun Market also works both as a wholesaler and as a retailer that offers products at reasonable prices to the retailers and the customers across the country. It is a famous place often visited not only by Korean merchants but also by the international traders from China, Japan, and Southeast Asia to Europe, USA, and the Middle East, essentially from all around the world. There are a number of must-visit restaurants in the Namdaemun Market.
It is highly recommended to try unique local food from some of the most famous street vendors and restaurants in the Namdaemun Market: Eunho Restaurant and Jinjujip specialized in oxtail soup; the Stewed Belt Fish Alley; the Noodle Soup Alley; the street vendor known for vegetable-filled griddle cakes; and Buwon Myeonok specialized in North Korean-style cold buckwheat noodles.
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