The original foundations of Gyeongbokgung Palace were put down in 1395. Since then many invaders have come and gone, but the palace is still there. Gyeongbokgung (경복궁) is my favorite place in Seoul. I always feel in awe of the gates, gently sloping roofs, intricate paintings, and colorful wooden beams. So last week when I found myself in the area after renewing my passport at the US Embassy, I decided to take a lunch break at the palace and surround myself with its glorious history.
The first thing you see when you approach Gyeongbokgung is the impressive Gwanghwamun Gate. This gate was destroyed by the Japanese during their occupation, but rebuilt in 1968. The gate stands facing the modern skyline of Seoul. Nearby large billboards glow with ads selling makeup, cars, and cellphones while underneath streams of tourists and Korean office employees dart in and out of traffic. Behind Gwanghwamun, however, lies the magnificence of Korea's past. Three beautifully arched entrance ways with giant red doors open up to a remarkable view of the inner buildings and rising majestically behind them is Bugaksan mountain. This view is one of my favorites in Seoul and never ceases to stop me in my tracks and make me reflect.
During lunch the palace is much quieter than normal. Most people in the palace are Korean couples and tourists dressed in elaborate hanbok, Korean traditional clothing. Flowers have started to open on the trees and the air has finally lost the harsh slap of winter. I like to wander around the buildings and enjoy the silence. The only sounds are the soil crunching beneath my feet and the occasional laughter of a passing couple or family. It's incredible that I can stand in the same place, and enjoy the same scenery, that for hundreds of years was enjoyed by Kings and Queens. I like to imagine them strolling around just like me occasionally stopping to enjoy music, calligraphy, or the beauty of a flower in spring.