Who doesn’t like a secret garden? How about a secret garden in a palace? Imagine how thrilled I was to learn there is actually a secret garden at Chang Deok Gung Palace! It was my first trip to Seoul, South Korea and I felt like I had discovered a hidden treasure only because I didn’t know it was there from the beginning (wink)
I only had a few hours left before our flight leaves Seoul in the evening so I thought of visiting Chang Deok Gung Palace. It’s just a walking distance from the Noble hotel where we stayed so I didn’t have to worry about the traffic.
Admission to Chang Deok Gung Palace including the Secret Garden is 10, 000 won, approximately 10 US dollars. The tour inside the Secret Garden is guided so you have to follow the schedule. Since the guided tour started a bit later after I arrived, I did not get to finish the whole tour as I have to be back in the hotel at 3PM and rush to the airport.
The Secret Garden is a forbidden place, only intended for recreational area and retreat of the royal family of the Joseon Dynasty. In the garden, you can see beautiful ponds like Buyongji, Aeryeonji and Gwallamji. A small but beautiful Ongnyucheon Stream runs through in the Northern part of the garden. The New Seonwonjeon, found in the deep woods in the western part of the garden, is a sacred place with facilities for ancestral rites. It’s not like our typical picture of a garden filled with flowers and ornamental plants but rather a place full of historical structures and stories.
Buyongji and Jumhamnu
This area is in the heart of the Secret Garden. It was a relatively open place used for retreats and study. The royal libraries of Gyujanggak and Seohyanggak are also in this area. State exams were conducted in front of Yeonghwadang Pavilion on special occasions, in the presence of the king. Buyongjeong Pavilion which seems to be a lotus flower bloom on the pond is designated as a Treasure.
Aeryoenji and Uiduhap
King Sukjong, the 19th king of Joseon Dynasty, was said to have created an islet topped by a pavilion in the middle of the pond in 1962. The island disappeared, but the pavilion remains on the northern end of the pond. King Sukjong named the pond ‘Aeryeon’, meaning ‘Loving the lotus flowers’. The king once said “I love the lotus because it blooms with such clean and beautiful flowers, however dirty the water may be, symbolizing the virtue of a true gentleman”. Uiduhap, which bears the sign ‘Gioheon’ at present, is a modest study. Unlike most traditional Korean structures, it was not adorned with various colors named “Dancheong”. Next to it is Ungyeonggeo. It is the smallest building in the palace.
Crown Prince Hyomyeong constructed Yeongyeongdang in about 1828 to hold the Jinjakrye ceremony to celebrate the 40th birthday of his mother, and to present a title for his father, King Sunjo, the 23rd king of Joseon. The men’s and women’s quarters are separated, but inside they are connected, just like in a typical Joseon nobleman house. Nongsujeong, situated on a high spot in the garden, bears a roof that resembles a hawk spreading its wings. Behind the women’s quarters is a kitchen; since the reign of Gojong, the 26th king of the Joseon Dynasty, Yeongyeongdang served as a venue to receive foreign envoys and throw parties with political overtones.
This area is believed to have been the last to be added on the Secret Garden. Originally, there were five small round and rectangular ponds. During the Japanese occupation, three of them were transformed into one curved pond, which is called Gwallamji. The other two ponds were also put together then one pond, called Jondeokji, was made. Pavilions of various shapes were built here. Jondeokjong, a hexagonal pavilion with a double layered roof, and Gwallamjeong with a fan shaped roof were built on the brim of the pond. On the hill to the west stands Pyeomusa. Pyeomusa was originally built in a ‘ㄱ’ layout and an auxiliary house, but nowadays it is a plain-looking building with no auxiliary structure. Deep in the woods is Seungjaejeong, a smart-looking pavilion with a square roof. Of all these, Jondeokjeong, built in 1644, is the oldest.
Source: Chang Deok Gung Palace brochure