Changdeokgung: Jewel of a Palace
by Ino Manalo A remarkable example of the global nature of contemporary culture is the way Filipinoaudiences have taken to Korean drama series like
Jewel in the Palace.
Something in thesetales of intramural intrigues and courtly passions must have appealed to our localviewers. One wag even suggested that we could actually make our own version and call it“Jowa in the Palace” with “jowa” being gay lingo for “spouse”.On the part of the Koreans, court intrigues are nothing new. For there is no lack of sumptuous settings for such Machiavellian plots. Seoul has the privilege of being home tofive grand palaces. Now islands of serenity in the bustle of city life, they had witnessedmany tumultuous events. One palace, Gyeongbukgung, was completely destroyed duringthe Japanese invasion of 1592. It was eventually restored only to be damaged whenJapan again occupied Korea in the 20
century. The Japanese built a huge Neo-Classicaladministrative building on top of the ruins, creating a virile image of their imperial might.This office was such a despised symbol of foreign domination that the Koreans wouldinsist on its destruction upon regaining their independence. In the 1990s, Gyeongbuk Palace (“gung” is the Korean word for palace) would rise once more. Clearly, even hugeedifices are vulnerable pawns in the pageant of power.Of Seoul’s many royal residences, perhaps the most beautiful is Changdeokgung. Thoughhaving had its share of the ravages of war and fire, it has retained many structures fromits past. It is the only palace in Korea to appear on the UNESCO World Heritage List.Wandering about Changdeokgung, one feels close to the bosom of the earth. For this is a building that embraces its setting. Every pillar stands with the strength of trees, floorsstretch out with the vastness of the sea. In contrast, the structures of Gyeongbukgunghave a linear orientation. State ceremonies are carried out in a regimented orderly procession. Not so with Changdeok Palace where courtyards wrap around mountains,gardens reflect the contours of the land.