World Heritage #0816 – Changdeokgung Palace Complex

Aug 10, 2019North, Central and East Asia, South Korea, World Heritage Sites

This is one of the five “grand palaces” in Seoul. It was originally constructed more than 600 years ago and served as the primary royal residence for 270 years. It was destroyed and rebuilt several times, but has retained its onetime atmosphere, architecture and not least a most wonderful rear garden.

The UNESCO World Heritage List includes more than a thousand properties with outstanding universal value. They are all part of the world’s cultural and natural heritage.


Official facts

Country: South Korea (Republic of Korea)

Date of Inscription: 1997

Category: Cultural

UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre’s (short) description of site no. 816:

In the early 15th century, the King Taejong ordered the construction of a new palace at an auspicious site. A Bureau of Palace Construction was set up to create the complex, consisting of a number of official and residential buildings set in a garden that was cleverly adapted to the uneven topography of the 58-ha site. The result is an exceptional example of Far Eastern palace architecture and design, blending harmoniously with the surrounding landscape.


More background information

Source. “Changdeok Palace was built in 1405, the fifth year of Taejong, the third ruler. It was primarily intended to be used as a separate palace in emergencies or when the king wanted to reside outside of the main palace. (…) After the Japanese Invasions of 1592-1598, when all of the palaces in Seoul were burned down, Changdeok Palace became the king’s official main residence and the financially-stricken court of King Gwanghaegun rebuilt it first. 

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.

The rear garden of Changdeok Palace epitomizes traditional Korean landscape architecture characterized by the aesthetics of nature. The natural contours of hills and valleys, waterfalls and woods are conserved in their pristine condition by minimizing man-made elements. The rear garden occupies some 300,000 square meters, or 60 percent of the total palace grounds.”


My visit

I visited this palace complex in 2019. At the entrance I paid for the extra ticket to the rear “Secret” garden. The palace complex is huge. One is allowed to walk freely through the gates, across the courtyards and to have looks inside the former office buildings and royal residences. 

Admission to the Secret garden is restricted to guided tours. There are several tours in English each day. Just make sure to be at the garden entrance at the right time. Be ready for a splendid walk in a hilly and forested area. It is beautiful. 


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