South Korea · Travel Tales

From Gwanghamun Square to Gyeongbokgung

Sure — the pen is mightier than the sword. But to keep the Joseon dynasty strong and glorious, both pen and sword had to be wielded by its greatest people.
Gwanghwamun Square features two large statues. One is of Yi Sun-shin in a very badass pose, which perfectly befits his accomplishments.
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Yi Sun-shin statue in Gwanghwamun Square
Admiral Yi found glory in his quests against the Japanese who invaded the Joseon dynasty starting in 1592. He had no prior naval training, no experience in naval battle, but as a commander was never defeated, in spite of jealous generals and a traitorous king (sigh, politics). You may have even heard of the Battle of Myeongnyang, where he defeated 133 Japanese warships with his 13, by devising a brilliant strategy that rested on his knowledge of the terrain.
At his feet, you will see a sculpture of a turtle ship, of which he is credited with improving the design. The turtle ship has a cutesy name until you consider that its deck is covered in steel spikes, so that if any Japanese soldier decides to jump in, he risks being impaled.
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King Sejong, with the Bukhansan mountain behind him
Meanwhile, King Sejong the Great is credited with enabling scientific and technological advances during the Joseon era, strengthening its military, and introducing hangul. I think his greatest accomplishment, though, is that he involved people of all social classes in all of these. For instance, before hangul, only the upper classes knew hanja — Joseon’s orthographic system which was based on Chinese characters. With the introduction of hangul, everyone, even the lower classes, could learn how to read and write.
As such, many of King Sejong’s decrees were met with resistance from the noblemen. But see, if you’re the leader, you have infinite power to do a lot of good for your country. (Sigh again.)
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Gwanghwamun, as seen from Gwanghwamun Square

Gwanghwamun Square takes its name from the gate that leads to Gyeongbokgung, the biggest and the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty. Most of it now is only a restoration, for the original was destroyed during the Japanese invasions of the late 16th century and abandoned for two centuries.

 

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The combination ticket for palaces. You can buy this before entering Heungnyemun, the inner gate, which you can see in the background

We entered the palace almost as it opened and bought the combination ticket for palaces. For ₩10000, this serves as your entrance ticket for four palaces — Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung and Huwon (Secret Garden), Changgyeonggung, and Deoksugung — plus the Jongmyo Royal Shrine. I highly recommend this if you plan on visiting at least Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung, along with the latter’s Secret Garden.

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Geungjeongjeon, the throne hall
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Inside the throne hall

We strolled around a bit until 10 AM, when we watched the royal changing of the guards.

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Then it was back to strolling again, whatever strolling is possible in 8°C weather.

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Roof detail

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We took some form of refuge inside the National Folk Museum of Korea. Picture taking isn’t allowed inside.

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National Folk Museum
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Surely I can’t be the only one who sees something phallic in this?

We should have explored more by going northward, but we opted to exit through the gate near the National Folk Museum. From there, we headed out to Samcheong-dong, toward the next palace — Changdeokgung.

 

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