One of the nicest places to stroll around in Seoul is the Changgyeonggung Palace, one of Korea’s five major palaces.
The Changgyeonggung has a rather odd history. It was originally built in 1484 as a retirement home for a former king. The place was torched during the Imjin War of 1593, and rebuilt in 1616. In 1907, when Emperor Sunjong moved from the Deoksugung to the Changdeokdung, the Changgyeonggung was turned into a park, complete with a zoo and botanical garden. This “parkification” was completed by the Japanese in 1910, when they renamed the place from the Changgyeonggung (“Changgyeong Palace”) to the Changgyeongwon (“Changgyeong Garden”) and opened it to the general public.
In 1983, the zoo was removed and the compound restored to “palace” status. But it still feels like a park, and the botanical garden is still there.
When you enter the the palace, there is a beautiful stone bridge that crosses a small stream. If you look at the side of the bridge, there is a goblin face carved into the side. This goblin was carved to ward off evil spirits. The carvings on the railings, meanwhile, are meant to prevent fire.
Main Courtyard, Myeongjeongjeon Hall
Like Korea’s other palaces, there is a broad courtyard just in front of the main throne hall. In the case of the Changgyeonggung, the peaks of Mt. Bukhansan are visible in the background.
The Myeongjeongjeon, or main throne hall, is smaller than the throne halls of the Gyeongbokgung or Changdeokgung, but it’s beautifully designed with some particularly intricate corridors to its left and right. The carvings on the stone steps are also worth looking at.
One of the things I like about the Changgyeonggung is the contrast between the palace and the skyline. This is truly where the modern and the traditional meet:
The area where the Chundangji Pond is was originally a royal farm plot, but in 1909, a Japanese-style pond was dug, complete with a Japanese-style pavilion and boats. You can see a photo of it from the 1950s here. In 1986, it was redone in Korean style — see below:
Nice sky yesterday:
Chinese 7-Story Pagoda
If this pagoda doesn’t look Korea, there’s a reason.
The pagoda, which shows definite Lamanist influence, was built in 1470 in China. In 1911, the Japanese purchased the pagoda from an antique dealer and placed it on the side of the Chundangji Pond. Basically, it’s a really nice garden ornament.
OK, I admit it… this is what I really came to photograph.
Now, people often say to me, “You know, Marmot, all those photographs of old Japanese public buildings, American missionary schools and French Catholic churches are all well and good, but you know what I’d like to see? One of those Victorian-style glasshouses, like at Kew Gardens or London’s old Crystal Palace from the Great Exposition of 1851. You know, some serious steampunk stuff.”
Well, children, here you are:
The glasshouse of the Changgyeonggung Botanical Garden was built in 1907 as Korea’s first such wood, iron and glass glasshouse. The building was designed by Hayato Fukuba, who was in charge of the Shinjuku Imperial Garden in Tokyo, and constructed by a French company. The glasshouse housed (and still houses) rare flora, including tropical plants.
The glasshouse was a symbol of the Victorian Age, the Industrial Revolution and the technological, economic and cultural might of the British Empire. The father of the glasshouse was Joseph Paxton, the 19th century gardener and architect whose masterpiece was the Crystal Palace of the Great Exhibition of 1851. The Victorian glasshouse was in some ways the Art Deco of its day — a cutting-edge, futuristic design that symbolized a bright future that, arguably, never came.
An interesting feature here is the influence of Moorish design on Victorian architecture. This influence is clearly visible in the Changgyeonggung Glasshouse, especially the windows. Paxton also found inspiration for his glasshouse design in the organic structure of the waterlily.
Here are some shots of the interior:
Trams and Trains
The North Gate of the Changgyeonggung Palace leads out into the National Science Museum. On display there, for those who are interested, are an old Seoul tram and an old steam locomotive.
Seoul’s tram system was founded by American businessmen, Henry Collbran and Harry Bostwick, in 1899. Tram service continued in the until November 1968, when tram service when increasingly viewed as a relic of the early industrial past. For an excellent look at the history of Seoul’s tram system, see this piece by Dr. Andrei Lankov.
These trams were built in Japan.
Work on Korea’s first railroad, which linked Seoul’s Noryangjin with Jemulpo (now Incheon), was begun by American J.R. Morris in 1897. Work stopped, however, due to lack of funds. A Japanese then bought the railroad rights, the on Sept. 18, the line was opened.
This Mogul-type steam engine, imported from Japan in 1934, ran from Suwon to Incheon and Suwon to Yeoju, playing a major part in the development of those regions.
Don’t forget the Flickr slideshow.