Chang Deok Gung has been an ongoing project of mine for the past year. I visited at the end of winter and in the beginning of spring. I was a bit busy this past summer exploring Europe, but had a chance to visit Chang Deok Gung in the beginning of Autumn. I was surprised to learn that you are no longer required to stay with your tour guide inside the secret garden. You still have to pay for a separate secret garden ticket and choose a time slot, but once inside you can look around freely at your own pace. The first thing you’ll see during the tour of the secret garden is the Buyongji (Lotus Pond) and Juhamnu (2 story royal library).
The square shape of Buyongji represents earth and the round shape of the island represents the sky. The pond used to be clean and full of lotus flowers, but unfortunately the groundwater reservoir has dried out. Apparently they are still trying to figure out how to get clean water into Buyongji without having to install a machine as that would go against ‘harmony with nature.’ According to the guide, King Jungjo would enjoy boat rides in the pond with those he favored at court. In return for receiving such a great honor, they were required to create a poem on the spot. If they failed to make a poem up to standards they were “banished from court” to that small island in the middle of Buyongji pond for a couple of hours. Apparently King Junjo had a good sense of humor! He was the one that had the Juhamnu library built and invited scholars to study next to the Buyongji pond. He granted them the honor of not having to stand when he, the king, entered the building to encourage their research and studies.
Buyongjeong (Lotus Gazebo) is one of my favorite buildings inside Chang Deok Gung. It was designed after a lotus flower in full bloom and has a unique shape that differs from the usual rectangular layout.
Aeryeonji (Love for lotus flowers Pond) and the Aeryeonjeong Gazebo had felt so bare when I visited in the winter. It felt completely different now with the bright autumn leaves and green trees left over from summer. Aeryeonji pond is also suffering from the same problem as Buyongji pond and missing all the lotus flowers. I hope they find a way to fix this problem soon to restore the beauty of the garden.
If you haven’t noticed yet, Koreans have a special place for mountains and waterside in their heart. So odds are you’ll find a gazebo next to the water and up in the mountains. This is Gwallamji (Watching boats Pond) and Gwallamjeong Gazebo. The whole area is surrounded by trees and you quickly forget that you’re in the middle of the city! It feels worlds apart and so peaceful here.
At Soyoam rock they would float wine cups along the water and hold a poetry contest. The goal was to come up with a poem before your cup reached you. If you know how difficult Chinese characters are, you’ll understand how difficult these poetry contests could be!
Cheonguijeong (clean water gazebo) was made so that the King could experience rice planting and harvesting. The king would harvest the rice and create the roof of the gazebo with the straw in hopes of a good harvest that year.
There’s a certain serenity to walking through the royal palace; though, I prefer to call it “gung (or goong)” which means royal palace in Korean. The word “palace” reminds me of European palaces such as Buckingham Palace or the Versailles which have a completely different look and feel from the royal palaces of Korea. It’s interesting to watch films and tv shows based on historical events that take place in and out of the “gung.” If you plan on visiting Korea and seeing Chang Deok Gung or any of the other royal palaces, I recommend watching a couple of films or shows to get a feel for the different culture and customs in the Korean Palace!