The Jongmyo (or Chongmyo) in Seoul, South Korea, is a royal shrine dedicated to the ancestors of the Choson dynasty, starting from King Taejo (who founded the Joseon dynasty). Among Confucian shrines, this is the most authentic and also the oldest. It is well preserved – what you see goes as far back as the 16th century. During the era of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, there were quite a number of shrines similar to Jongmyo. However, only the shrines for the Choson family have been preserved.
The Chongmyo enshrines the kings and queens of the Choson dynasty (that is, all except two). The shrine also preserves tablets containing the teachings of the Choson kings and queens. Through the years, it is the site of ritual ceremonies that can be traced to as far back as the 14th century. The ceremony cleverly combines the elements of music, costumes and dance. The ritual, called Chongmyo Daeje, is currently performed once a year, in May, The Choson dynasty's descendants, all bedecked in colorful and elaborate costumes, meet together at the court. The Chongmyo Cherye-ak is the court music that is played during the ceremony. The Royal Court Orchestra provides the traditional court music, some of which were even composed by King Sejong.
The shrine was commissioned by King Taejo in 1394. Cheongjeon, Jongmyo's main shrine hall is quite long, probably the longest of its kind in Asia. This hall is a one-story wooden structure. At the front of the hall is the Woldae (moon pedestal) Courtyard, which 100 meters wide and 150 meters long. The Cheongjeon's south gate served as the entrance and exit of the spirits, the west gate was for those who participate in the ritual presentations and the east gate served as the entrance and exit of the king. Following traditional design, the main hall is surrounded by hills.
From time to time, kings expanded the shrine, adding more halls. In all, there are 19 chambers housing the king and the queen's memorial tablets. There are 19 tablets of kings, while there are 30 of the queen's memorial tablets.
The Jongmyo Shrine is part of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites. It was added to this prestigious list in 1995. UNESCO also declared the shine a Masterpiece of Human Oral and Intangible Heritage in 2001. The Japanese burned the shrine down during the Seven-Year War, but in 1601, the shrine was rebuilt and the original tablets were returned. Indeed, it was fortunate that the original tablets survived – they were hidden during the war.
Visit the Chongmyo shrine during the week, except for Tuesday. The opening hours vary depending on the time of the year. From November to February, the shrine opens from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. From March to October, you can only visit from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and until 6:00 p.m. on weekends. An admission fee is charged at the entrance.