The Deoksu Palace, Seoul
“Meandering leads to perfection.” - Lao Tzu
I first visited the Deoksu Palace in the third grade when my aunt took me to see a pop concert there. I think I was one of two children who attended the concert and my aunt kept encouraging to get autographs from celebrities I can’t even remember. Although I now laugh at how uninformed I was of pop culture during my childhood in South Korea, I remember how excited I was to be in a palace surrounded with history of the Korean Imperial family.
Various Korean royalties inhabited the palace until the Japanese occupation of Korea around the turn of the 20th century. Originally the residence of Prince Wolsan, the older brother of King Seongjong, Deoksu Palace only became a royal palace after the Seven-Year War when all the other palaces were burned during the 1592 Japanese invasions. King Seonjo was the first king to reside at the palace. In 1618, the official royal residence moved to the newly rebuilt Changdeok Palace. So for 270 years the Deoksu Palace was used as an auxiliary palace until 1897 when Emperor Gojong took refuge there after the Russian legation. After Emperor Gojong abdicated the throne to Emperor Sunjong, he continued to live in at Deoksu.
Intentionally destroyed during the Japanese occupation of Korea, only one third of the structures of Deoksu Palace remain as what stood originally. The renovations and additions created a palace with a large collection of varying styles of buildings: natural sugi, painted wood, and stucco. Some buildings were even built in Western style.
Since my first visit to the Deoksu Palace, it has become one of my frequented places in Seoul. Mainly because of its location near the City Hall Station and centrally located to where I used to live, but also because it’s manageable in size in comparison to other palaces in Seoul. I always liked its intimacy, as well as the sadness that comes from knowing it’s where the Last Emperor of Korea died. I still have my pattern of strolling around the palace, down the boulevards of wisteria, punctuated by field of tranquil water lilies, honed granite keystones, and beautiful lights penetrating through shoji screens, on and on.
Photos by D.B. Kim.