The entrance to the palace features the oldest surviving gate in Seoul - Donhwamun - and a customary stone-carved bridge, also the oldest among its kind. Built in the 15th century, the stone carved animals statues guarding against evil spirits at the entrance still remain. The layout of the main complex is similar to the rest of the royal palaces; after the bridge lies the inner gate, leading to the ceremonial square and the throne hall - Injeongcheon. However, Changdeokgung is called the most beautiful palace for a reason. It is especially enchanting during the summer Moonlight Festival when the palace gates are open until late evening and the palace grounds are illuminated.
During the Joseon Dynasty, officials used to take positions in front of the hall according to rank (as marked by the traditional stone poles), while the King would sit on the Eojwa – the royal throne. Injeongcheon still holds the traditional Korean folding screen Irworobongdo – “Painting of the Sun, Moon and the Five Peaks” – placed behind the throne, which symbolizes the king and queen and the kingdom they reign over.
Further inside the palace is the official quarters - meeting halls, libraries, studies and smaller pavilions for the King and his council. For years these buildings did not have heated floors, which, one might argue, made meetings rather short during winter.
Huijeongdang and Daejojeon, the living quarters of the Queen and the King, are more convenient in contrast to the official halls. They feature ondol-heated floors and are located near the Suragan – Korean Royal Kitchen, curiously re-designed in a Western style. Moreover, the royal residence in Changdeokgung has also been equipped with its own pharmacy "yakbang" and a herb garden. Doctors were always on duty, rotating day and night shifts, while female healers were employed to serve the ladies of the court.
Located in the futhermost part of the main palatial complex, Nakseonjae Hall looks more like a servants residence than a royal one. It was built in the first half of the 19th century by a king famous for his thriftiness: used as the royal quarters and office, the complex is surprisingly plain. It does not use the traditional Korean green-blue rooftop paint or any exterior decorations. Nakseonjae was used as a residence by the last members of the royal family: Empress Sunjeonghyo until 1966 and Lady Yi Bang-ja until 1989.
Designed as a quiet and secluded artificial forest, with winding streams and shaded paths, Huwon is one of the most beautiful parts of Changdeokgung. The first sight as you enter the garden is the rectangular Buyongji Pond with a small oval islet in the middle. This design is not purely aesthetic: the rectangular symbolizes the land, while the oval symbolizes the sky. Pavillions scattered around were mostly used by the King and his officials to study, hold state exams, read, and hold meetings. Deeper into the garden lies another pond - Aeryeonji - also rectangular, but without an islet in the middle. To get to it you have to pass through the so-called Fire Gate, which is believed to grant anyone who walks through it "longevity". Next to the pond is the final structure in the garden, Yeongyeongdang Hall, another royal residence, and study.
After the last residential complex starts a forest. Even in the hottest days of summer, it remains cool and refreshing. It is mostly due to the Ongnyucheon Stream that runs merrily through most of the Secret Garden. Several pavilions are scattered alongside it, with stone bridges connecting the sides of the valley. The stream starts from a stone well with an L-shaped waterway and a poem carved into the rock. Engraved in 1690 by the King himself, the poem perfectly describes the serene beauty of the Secret Garden: "The stream flows away beyond the measurement, and the waterfall plummets down from the sky. These remind me of the white rainbow, thunder, and light all over the valley."
Moonlight Festival (창덕궁 달빛기행): May 10th - May 27th / August 23rd - October 28th, every Sunday 19:00 - 22:00. Advance reservation required. Reservation online through auctioning system.