By the way I forgot to explain what I meant when I said that I was going on a National Treasures hunt. By National Treasures, I mean the numbered set of tangible treasures, artifacts, sites, and buildings which are recognized by South Korea as having exceptional artistic, cultural and historical value.
Many of the national treasures are popular tourist destinations such as the Jongmo Royal Ancestral Shrine, Bulgaksa, Seokguram and the Tripitaka Koreana at Haeinsa.. The treasures are numbered according to the order in which they were designated and not according to their individual value.
So, what say you if we start with National Treasures #2, the 10 Storied Stone Pagoda of Wongaksa at Tapgol Park?
It was previously the site of a 15th century Buddhist temple, and a 10 storied stone pagoda and a few relics of the temple still can be seen in the park. The Wongaksa Pagoda, dating from 1467 as one of the finer examples of pagoda art during the Joseon era, is encased in a thick protective shielding.
There are a number of bas-relief statues representing Korean patriots, the Declaration of Independence Monument, and a poem by Han Yong-un. It is like an open air museum.
One of the monuments in the park is the Monument of Wongaksa built in 1471 to record the founding of Wongaksa (temple) in 1465. The turtle shaped base is constructed from granite and the body is cut from marble. The monument measures 1.3 meters wide and stands 4.9 meters in height. Two elaborately carved intertwined dragons rising toward the sky holding a Buddhist gem reside on the top of the monument.
On the front is an inscription composed by Kim Suon with the calligraphy done by Seong Im. On the back is an inscription composed by Seo Geo Jeong with the calligraphy done by Jeong Nam Jong.
From here, let’s now go to Gyeongbokgung or Gyeongbok Palace to look for our next two National Treasures, the Geunjeongjeon Hall and the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion. As I intend to write about all the palaces in more detail later on, I shall only briefly touch on the palaces and deal more on the National Treasures for now.
Gyeongbokgung which means Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven, was built in 1395 and served as the main palace.
Geunjeongjeon is the throne hall of the palace where kings conducted the affairs of the state, as well as the official functions, and received foreign envoys in audience.
The building was constructed during King Taejo's reign in1394 and the name of the building, which was given by High Priest Jeong Dojeon, means the Hall of Government of Diligence
It was burnt down during the Japanese Invasion in 1592, and the present building was only rebuilt in 1867, during the reign of King Gojong. Geunjeongjeon is a two storied building that contains 5 rooms each on the front and side. The roof is "八" shaped from the side. The stone platforms in front of the hall are carved with various animal ornaments, including the12 Chinese zodiacal images.
The inside of the hall is level without higher or lower floor and in the center is the throne with the sun and the moon folding screen behind it. Surrounding the Geunjeongjeon is a square corridor, two-kan wide.
At the center of the southern wing stands the Geunjeon Gate and in the stone paved spacious courtyard between this gate and the throne hall, stand on both sides of the straight paved path used by the kings, two rows of stone tablets at intervals, marked with a number to indicate the positions of rank during the royal audience.
Gyeonghoeru, National Treasures #224 is located to the left of the main building.
Gyeonghoeru or Pavilion of Auspicious Meeting is a two storied pavilion which stands on a rectangular stone island in a lotus lake. It was erected in the northwest side of the pond in Geunjeongjeon, Gyeongbok Palace, The upper storey was used for royal banquets during the Joseon period and is still being used today on special occasions such as the nation's liberation day reception on Aug.15.
The original building was constructed by King Taejo when Gyeongbokgung Palace was first constructed, as a two storied pleasure pavilion which was later enlarged by King Taejong in 1412, at which time the lotus lake was laid out.
It was burnt down during the Japanese Invasion in 1592, leaving only the stone supports.
The present edifice was reconstructed in 1867 during the reign of King Gojong. Gyeonghoeru had 7 rooms in front and 5 rooms at the side and was a splendid and magnificent building.
With the reconstruction, square pillars were erected outside, while circular pillars were erected inside. The lower floor is open and has 48 stone pillars, carved with dragons wider at the bottom than at the top, set in eight rows of six columns each.
The lower floor was made of stone, whilst the upper floor had a wooden floor. The upper room floor was not level but elevated so that officials could sit according to their respective ranks/positions. The roofs were made up of a set of decorative roof tiles over the angle rafter.
The pavilion is connected to the shore land by three stone bridges. Animal figures were carved on the bridge and its railings. Behind the pavilion, a man-made hill called Amisan, was constructed using the soil that was dug out to make the pond.
This simple and yet splendidly designed pavilion is considered as a valuable cultural asset, representing the work style of the late Joseon Dynasty.
If you only have time to visit one palace then make it this one as it’s the mother of all palaces. Within the vicinity are the National Folk Museum and the National Palace Museum which are included free in the admission ticket to the Gyeongbok Palace.
In case you are interested to come back on your own to spend more time at this palace, I’m including some info for you.
Palace admission: 3,000 won.
Open Wed. - Mon. from 9 am - 6 pm (Mar. - Oct.) or 9 am - 5 pm (Nov. - Feb.).
Open until 7pm on Weekends and National Holidays (May to August only).
Free Guided Walking Tours:
English at 11am, 1.30pm and 3.30pm
Japanese at 10am, 12.30pm and 2.30pm
Chinese at 10.30am, 1pm and 3pm
Changing of Guards:
Every hour from 10am to 4pm
Since the entrance ticket to Gyeongbokgung includes free entrance to the National Palace Museum, we might as well go in to see National Treasures #310, Large Porcelain Jar.
White porcelain jars of this type were produced for about a century, from the latter half of the 17th century to the early half of the 18th century, at kilns run by the Office of the Royal Kitchens (Saongwon), particularly those in Geumsa-ri, Gwangju, Gyeonggi-do Province.
These voluminous round jars with a pure, rich ambience are usually over 40cm in height and have a milky white glaze. They are often called "moon jars." This jar is 43.8cm tall and 44cm in diameter. The diameters of the mouth and the base are in ideal proportion and give the vessel a stable appearance. The jar is slightly asymmetric and warped, which contributes to the overall vibrancy of the vessel form rather than impairing its beauty. The glaze is smoothly melted into the clay.
Given their large size, porcelain jars of this style were formed in two hemispheres which were joined together. It was a precarious job requiring deft hands. Firing also needed high expertise.
The unassuming aesthetic of these jars typified the porcelain art of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Most outstanding examples are dated to the early part of the 18th century. During the peak years there were some 340 kilns in the Gwangju area alone.
Let’s now go to another palace, the Changdeokgung to take a look at the Injeongjeon Hall, National Treasures #225.You are going to love this palace, and there’s even a secret garden.
Incidentally, for those of you who watched the drama Dae Jang Geum or Jewel in the Palace, parts of this palace were used in the filming of the drama.
I hope that you ladies have comfortable walking shoes on, as there’s a bit of hill climbing to be done here since the palace is on hilly ground.
Changdeokgung was built as a secondary palace in 1405 during the reign of King Taejong, but which was to become the main palace later on. The meaning of the name Changdeokgung is "Palace of Prospering Virtue". Changdeokgung was the most favored palace of many princes of the Joseon Dynasty.
Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung were totally destroyed by fire during the Japanese invasion of 1592. After the war, only Changdeokgung was restored in 1610, during the reign of King Gwanghaegun and served as the main palace for the next 258 years, to become the longest functioning main palace in Joseon history.
The layout of Changdeokgung is unique in that it is situated on the slope of Mt Bukgaksan and the palace is special in that it does not overlook any of the major streets of the capital like the other palaces. Ironically, the less majestic placement of the Changdeok Palace adds to its aesthetic value.
Changdeokgung may be one-third the size of Gyeongbokgung, but the beautiful natural landscape it is endowed with makes up for any shortcomings due to its size. In most of the other palaces, the grandeur of the throne hall can usually be seen immediately after walking through the main gate. This is where Injeongjeon Hall, the throne hall of Changdeok Palace, is different. It is situated to the right of the palace down the main avenue and then, to the left. At a glance, the palace appears to be a bit disorganized, but when examined from a topographical perspective, its setting flows in continuous harmony with the natural terrain. Instead of clearing away large hills, the palace buildings were instead built around them. Pavilions were built nestled in between the trees and gorges, to ensure that there was no interference to the overall landscape.
Behind the palace lies the Huwon (Rear garden) which was originally constructed for the use of the royal family and palace women. It was first landscaped in 1623 and served for centuries as a royal retreat.
The garden incorporates a lotus pond, pavilions, and landscaped lawns, trees, and flowers. The surroundings and the palace itself are well matched. There are over 26,000 specimens of a hundred different species of trees in the garden and some of the trees behind the palace are now over 300 years old. The garden that was a very private space for the king had been called 'Geumwon' (Forbidden garden) because even the high officials did not dare to enter without the king's invitation. Today Koreans often call it 'Biwon' (Secret garden) Though the garden had many other names, the name most frequently used in those days was 'Huwon'.
A variety of ceremonies hosted by the king were conducted here, amongst them, the holding of feasts, having firework displays, and even participating in sporting events like archery.
It had 5 rooms in the front and 4 rooms at the side. The roofs are '八' shaped. In the center of the ceiling, two phoenixes among the clouds were painted. The throne was placed behind the high pillars in the middle. The top of the roof was decorated with a plum design, which was a symbol of an imperial family during the very end of the Joseon Dynasty.
Ceremonies were held in the courtyard out front. From the outside, this building seems to be 2 stories, but inside it is a single space, without any partitions at all.
As usual,there were the stones lining the courtyard of Injeongjeon Hall to serve as markers to place civil and military officers during official ceremonies.
The floor, lighting, curtains, glass windows were only modified to a Western style in 1908.
According to the theory of Pungsoo (geomancy), the setting of the Injeongjeon Hall is comparable to the bud of a Japanese apricot, which is a flower that hangs from the boughs of the trees that grow on the Baekdudaegan, the biggest mountain range on the Korean Peninsula.
It had been repaired several times and the present state of the building was built in 1804 during the reign of King Sunjo .
Where to next? There’s a palace right next door, why don’t we have a look there? Changgyeonggung’s Myeongjeongjeon Hall, National Treasures #226 is what I have in mind. Together with Changdeokgung, which is separated from Changgyeonggung by just a stone wall, the palace used to be called “Donggwol or eastern palace”.
Built as “Suganggung” by King Sejong the Great for his father, King Taejong, this palace was renovated and enlarged by King Seongjong in 1483, for his grandmother, mother and an aunt.
As compared to the Geunjeongjeon in Gyeongbokgung and the Injeongjeon in Changdeokgung which were large buildings, Myeongjeongjeon was just a small sized, single-story building.
It contained 5 rooms in the front and 3 rooms at the side, while the roofs were '八' shaped.
Pillars, supporting the eaves, were not only placed on the top of the pillars but also between pillars, called the "multi-beam style." They were soundly constructed without decoration which was the typical style of the early Joseon Dynasty,
Behind the throne, there was a folding screen known as the Irworoakdo which was embroidered with figures of the sun, the moon, and the five famous mountains in Korea.
In front of the stairs outside the building, there were 24 platforms, indicating the rankings of the government officials.
Myeongjeongjeon Hall, Myeongjeongmun Gate and Honghwamun Gate are examples of the architectural styles popular in 17th century Joseon. Carvings at the two tips of the rooftop of Honghwamun Gate and sculptures arranged along the smoothly curved gable ridge added an air of authority to the royal palace.
Guided foreign language tours are offered twice a day, the palace is open to the public, every day except Saturdays.
When King Taejo, the founder of the Joseon (Chosôn) dynasty, established his rule in Seoul, he built Jongmyo to honor his ancestors in a proper, filial way according to the dictates of the new ideology, Neo-Confucianism. Jongmyo also served as a model for the ancestral rites the people were expected to perform. The Neo-Confucian literati, who held the real power, wanted the people to turn away from the traditional Buddhist mourning rites toward Neo-Confucian ones. They ordered the yangban nobility to build miniature shrines in their homes, but the rule was often ignored in the early years. Later, as Neo-Confucianism gained ground, the shrines were carefully tended to in every household.
Jongmyo was completed in 1395. The grounds were planted with a solemn dignity. No excess ornamentation was permitted, nor were the buildings meant to overawe. The most precious objects enshrined here were the ancestral tablets of the King and his successors. During the Japanese invasions of 1592-1598, the tablets were kept for a time in the house of a commoner, but were returned here after reconstruction in 1608
As the Joseon dynasty unfolded, Jongmyo became the scene of a yearly ceremony in which the current King honored his seven previous male ancestors. Royal merit subjects might also be remembered in a separate hall, as were remote ancestors. Close relatives of the King and Queen in line for the throne who died without receiving it were often posthumously awarded the title. Every time a living King or Queen died, their names were recorded on a wooden tablet and installed in the Chongjon building. Active use ended in 1910 with the Japanese occupation.
Jongmyo Shrine served as the venue for the royal ancestral rites during the Joseon period. The construction of the Jongmyo Shrine was completed in 1395 before that of the main palace, Gyeongbokgung. Jongmyo Shrine is the supreme shrine of the state where the tablets of royal ancestors are enshrined and memorial services are performed for deceased kings and queens.
49 tablets, including those of 19 Joseon Kings, from its first, Taejo, to its last, Sunjong have been enshrined in Jeongjeon. Another 34 including four of Taejo’s ancestors, posthumously designated monarchs and the kings and queens were moved from Jeongjeon to the Hall of Eternal Peace, which was built in 1421 after the Main Hall ran out of space.
Subsequently, the two buildings were expanded several times resulting in their uniquely long linear shape today.
In addition to the two shrine halls, the Jongmyo compound has various halls that were used when preparing for the rites. The layout and structures of Jongmyo Shrine are very simple. The spirit chambers inside the halls where the spirit tablets are enshrined are decorated inside but the shrine halls have minimal adornment and project a sense of dignity and solemnity.
The Main Hall (Jeongjeon) is listed as National Treasure No. 227 and is the longest building of traditional design in Korea.
The image of Jeongjeon Hall viewed from the Nam-mun, the main gate, holds the beauty of a simple black tiled roof top and presents a formal calmness. The Jeongjeon Hall has asymmetric dimensions of101 meters long to the side on a foundation to 110 meters wide and 70 meters vertically.
The Jeongjeon Hall was meant to be built this way to serve its unique function during the Joseon Dynasty. Yet, another aesthetic perspective has been added to the structure. The Jeongjeon Hall had 25 kan (compartments) with 19 Kan for the ancestral tablets and 3 kan of spacing compartments on each end. The original design had only 7 kan when King Taejo ordered its construction, however, as the dynasty passed throne after throne through 500 years, the Jeongjeon Hall had to be extended at the ends to accommodate more tablets of deceased royalty, and maintain the divine order of the Dynasty’s ancestral tablets.
There were four major extensions to the original structure that led to the current configuration of the Jeongjeon Hall. These major extensions notwithstanding, the Jeongjeon Hall has maintained its original structural integrity of one complete building. It features different architectural styles shown in the extensions while maintaining the beauty of the uniformed integrity of the building.
The unique design of the Jongmyo Shrine is not even found in China, where the shrine for dedicating ancestral tablets of monarchs originated. The Jeongjeon Hall was the biggest wooden structure of one unit in the world when it was built and extended. It is regarded as the archetypal architectural structure of the Joseon Dynasty, possessing superb artistic value.
Ceremonies for deceased ancestors were the most important of all rites according to the Confucian way of thinking. The ceremonies were presided over by the King and served as a model for all sacrificial rites in the dynasty. The ceremony has three distinct phases:
1. Welcoming of the Spirits
2. Entertaining them
3. Ushering them out
Previously, the ceremony was held five times a year, but since 1971, it has been reduced to only once a year, which is on the first Sunday in May.
National Treasures #265, Avatamsaka sutra part 13 belonging to Kim Jonggyu can be found at the Samsung Publishing Museum.
Daebanggwangbul Avatamsaka Sutra or in short, the Avatamsaka Sutra is one of the books that have the greatest influence in the establishment of Korean Buddhist philosophy.
This is Book No. 13 among the 80 books of the original edition of the Avatamsaka Sutra translated by Silchananta of the Tang Dynasty of China.
It is a part of the Tripitaka Original, which was made during the reign of King Hyeonjong (1011~1031) of the Goryeo Dynasty in an attempt to counter an aggression by the Kitan on the strength of Buddha.
The book is produced by woodblock printing on mulberry papers and designed to be stored in the form of a scroll.
It is made by joining in a row 24 pieces of paper, each of which is 46.3 cm long and 28.5 cm wide. There are several differences between the Tripitaka Original and the Tripitaka at Haeinsa Temple (also known as the Tripitaka Second or the Tripitaka Koreana), which were produced later.
The former has more sophisticatedly carved wood blocks than the latter. It contains a smaller number of characters, whilst not showing the year of production. Pihwi, a way of expressing respect by omitting a stroke from the letter or replacing it with a synonymous word when a letter in the name of the preceding king appears, and abbreviated characters are found in several places.
In addition, the Tripitaka Original often uses the words 'Jang' and 'Pok' to indicate the chapters in the books, whereas the Haeinsa Temple version uses a uniform expression of 'Jang' (using a different Chinese character).
The total number of characters in a line in this book is only fourteen, whereas in the Haeinsa Temple version each line contains seventeen characters . The last stroke in the character 'Gyeong' is omitted.
This book was published sometime between the 11th and 12th century, when the Tripitaka Original was made.
There is still one more national treasure to be found in Jongno-gu, the Wandangsehando (Landscape in winter painting by Kim Jeonghui, National Treasures #180, belonging to Son Changgeun. I can only describe it to you but I’m afraid I do not know where it is kept. Does anyone know?
As a follower of Park Jega, who was an eminent literati painter as well as a social reformist advocating to learn practical science from Qing of China, Wandang (who’s also known by another pen name, Chusa) Kim Jeongheui (1786~1856) researched epigraphy under the influence of bibliographical study of Chinese classics.
As a famous literati painter, Kim Jeongheui created his own calligraphy called Chusache. As his representative piece of artwork, this picture "Wandang Sehando" (69.2 cm x 23 cm) was drawn while he was living in exile in Jejudo Island.
In the corner of the picture, there is a description in his own writing revealing that this is a gift in return for the valuable books sent by His follower Yi Sangjeok who was staying in Peking, China.
The two ever-green trees in the picture symbolize their ever-lasting strong ties between the two people as a teacher and a student. This picture depicts one snow-covered cottage with the pine tree on the left and the cone pine tree on the right.
The remaining space is left empty with the intention of emphasizing the virtue of living simple and temperate.
On the right upper part, with the title of "Sehando", he wrote his pen name, "Wandang" along with his seal. Through his technique of brushwork rather rough and dry, he depicted the scene of the snowy winter clear and serene. Opposed to the social trends resorting to showy artifice, Kim Jeongadheui remained faithful to his own principle by emphasizing the importance of virtue of extreme temperance.
This picture is highly valued as the most representative one among the late Joseon Era literati paintings.
What a productive day we’ve had today, we managed to unearth 9 National Treasures here in Jongno-gu.
And so we have come to the end of our visit to Jongno-gu. I thought of taking you all to Insadong for some shopping but it looks like it will have to be put on hold until next week. I don’t think you’ll have the strength to walk some more after that amount of walking we did today.
So hope to see you again next week.
Special thanks and appreciation to the following:
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