South Korea · Travel Tales

We (unintentionally) gatecrashed a wedding in Unhyeongung

On our fourth day in Seoul, we slept for as long as we could and took our time with breakfast. Our goal was to visit nearby areas — the Jongmyo Shrine, Unhyeongung, the War Memorial, and whichever other place struck our (read: my) fancy.

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Servants’ quarters

Unhyeongung used to be where the crown prince Gojong stayed before he ascended to the throne of the Joseon dynasty. Right now it is much smaller than it used to be, as original parts of it have become schools and a hanok guesthouse.

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The young soon-to-be King Gojong with a palace officer. Made out of wax or the same sort of material, of course.

While we were exploring the place, we heard music from somewhere. We were reminded of the show the day before at Changgyeonggung and were excited that we might actually be able to watch this one. We followed the sounds and saw that people were milling about the small courtyard — the Norakdang, as it turns out, which was also where King Gojong married Empress Myeongseong. Some kids were even peeking inside, and there was a father carrying his toddler, both of them wearing traditional clothes.

I squeezed my way inside, right in the middle of things, and took a few shots of what looked like a play featuring a couple wearing traditional Korean clothes. But then I noticed that two middle-aged couples were sitting on each side of the couple. Then, the woman whom I thought was a narrator of sorts seemed to instruct the main couple to embrace the older ones, which they did…while everybody clapped.

Realization dawned. I slowly made my way back toward the exit, near which my husband stood. He whispered beside me, “Uh…I think we’re in a wedding.”

“I think so, too?” I whispered back.

So we hurriedly left the courtyard, and that’s when we noticed some flower installations, a table with three ladies sitting in a row on one side, and a tarpaulin that showed chibi versions of the couple we’d just seen. It was the registration area for the wedding.

And my husband and I stared at each other in shock and embarrassment. Then we just laughed our heads off even as we left Unhyeongung.

* * *

The next stop in our misadventure was the Jongmyo Royal Shrine, another UNESCO heritage site. It’s an important Confucian shrine — the oldest and most authentic. What you see of the Jongmyo Royal Shrine now is what it was in the 16th century (minus the more modern installations, of course). While the bodies of the kings and queens are buried in royal mounds, their “spirit tablets” are housed in the Jongmyo shrine.

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Where the spirit tablets are placed

It was a Saturday, so visitors were free to stroll around. On weekdays (except Tuesdays, when it is closed) and Sundays, you have to join a tour group to enter. At least our stay here was relatively uneventful.

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Pay attention to the signs! Or else!

To rest a bit, we stayed in a room where there was a multimedia presentation on the Jongmyo Jerye. The Jongmyo Jerye are rites originating from China and are held to worship the deceased kings and queens of the Joseon dynasty. The elaborate Confucian rites, including the music and dancing, are well-preserved — they have been reconstructed from historical sources. They have been revived and are held in the Jongmyo Shrine up to this day.

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An exhibit of the offerings given during the Jongmyo Jerye

I loved the atmosphere of the Jongmyo Shrine. It may have helped that there were very few people there, who also seemed to sense the serenity the place required and exuded.

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The spirits of the Joseon kings and queens could certainly rest here.

Entrance to Unhyeongung is free. Entrance to the Jongmyo Shrine is ₩1000 for aduts, ₩500 for kids ages 7-18. Everyone else goes in for free.

The Jongmyo shrine is included in the integrated palace ticket worth ₩10000.

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