The Changdokkung Palace (or Palace of of Prospering Virtue in English) in Seoul, South Korea, enthralls with its secret garden and magnificent architecture of the Joseon Dynasty. For over 250 years, it served as the seat of the royal regime and has largely preserved its architectural style.
The design of the palace was based on the specification from the Three Kingdoms Period. This makes the palace design predominantly Korean, as opposed to the other palaces that had foreign influences. The palace is unique in that it was built to blend with its natural environment. The palace is just gorgeous come autumn when the leaves turn red and gold.
Changdokkung has 41 structures, including the Donhwamun (the gate), Geumcheongyo (the granite bridge) and the Daejojeon (which comprised the private apartments of the King and Queen, plus the rooms where the princes were tutored). Some parts have been rearranged, destroyed and reconstructed, so that the current structures are more of a combination of the Korean and Western styles.
The gate is a simple yet elegant structure that is the main entrance to the palace grounds. It is the oldest such entrance existing in Seoul. Meanwhile, the bridge is a beautiful granite structure that actually encompasses the palace's outer buildings. Built in 1411, it is the oldest stone bridge in Seoul. It is still in its original condition. The bridge is adorned with a turtle statue on the north and the Haetae (a mythical animal) on the south. There is also a monster carved in the two arches of the bridge. The monster serves to ward evil spirits.
There is another gate that leads to the Injeongjeon (where the king met with his officials). The gate was erected in 1418. However, the gate you will see is just a reconstruction, as the original gate was destroyed during the Japanese invasion. The Injeongjeon is the palace's main hall. This is a magnificent part of the palace, as this is adorned with the all-important symbols of the king's authority and power. Another hall, the Seonjeongjeon, housed the king's throne. The ceiling of the hall features an elaborate set-up of canopy and Joseon Dynasty art and woodcraft. Then there is the Huijeondang, which is another hall that houses the king's 'office'. Aside from the two halls, there is still another hall, the Daejojeon, which is the queen's residence.
There are more halls in the Palace, namely Yeonghwadang, Yeongyeongdang and the Uirojeon. Then there is also the Royal Garage, the Pavilions (Gyeonghungak and Nakseonjae) and the infirmary (which has every kind of herb in the country). The Juhamnu is the palace library, which houses thousands of books covering a host of different topics. The Seonhyangjae is more private, primarily for the Royal family. The palace also has quite a number of pavilions (Buyongjeong and Gwallamjeong), ponds (Buyongji, Aeryeonji), a shrine and a stream.
The back garden is a fairyland of pavilions, thousands of flowering plants and trees. It has picturesque landscapes composed of ponds, hillocks, wooded areas, pavilions and bridges. The secret garden is very beautiful. The garden is a splendid example of traditional Korean gardens. The man-made structures were built around the natural environment. The biwon (as the garden is called) also features a square lotus pond which is surrounded by pavilions. The most famous is the Puyongjon Pavilion, which has 20 sides.
The palace is registered in UNESCO's World Cultural Heritage List.