One has not witnessed the true beauty of Changdeokgung Palace until seeing it unveiled under a full moon, the Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation claims.
And it is beautiful with the full moon rising above Buyongji Pond and brushing through the royal court of Nakseonjae and the Secret Garden.
Prior to the foundation’s launch of the “2014 Moonlight Tour at Changdeokgung Palace,” all visitors had to exit this UNESCO world heritage site by 6 p.m. without exception.
But thanks to the monthly special tour, the royal palace is open during the full moon in April through June and from September to November.
Visitors roam the dimly-lit grounds escorted by tour guides who are dressed as court maids and royal stewards from the Joseon era.
|Gyujanggak, the royal library of the Joseon period, is reflected on Buyongji Pond in Changdeokgung Palace during the full moon in Seoul on April 16. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)|
This tour event accepts only 100 people per session. Out of the total 37 sessions scheduled for this year, 10 are reserved for international visitors.
“The night tour has become so popular that it sells out in a few minutes,” one of the court maids says. “We also accept sign-ups over the phone for elderly visitors who are not as tech-savvy.”
The tour starts off at Donhwamun Gate. Entering through the gate, visitors are wowed by the splendid sight of a huge tree covered in white blossoms.
“You may have mistaken it for a cherry tree, but in fact, it is a zelkova tree,” a tour guide says.
The visitors stroll past Geumcheongyu Bridge, garnished with sculptures of unicorn-lions and turtles which were believed to protect the royal residents from evil spirits.
A stone trail lays from Injeongmun Gate to Injeongjeon, the king’s audience chamber. The court-lady warns: “The central path of the trail is Eo-do, the king’s road. Anyone who violated the Eo-do was taken out and whipped 80 times during those days.”
Some places reflect the western culture that was gradually introduced to Korean royalty. Heejeongdang, once the king’s bedroom, burned down in a fire in 1917 and was later refurbished with western-style furniture. The main gate of Heejeongdang was also renovated to accommodate automobiles.
Many tourists picked Buyongji Pond, the lotus pond, as the highlight of the tour. The pond has a rectangular shape to represent the Earth. Reflected in the pond’s waters is the royal library, Gyujanggak.
Alongside Buyongji Pond is a female geomungo player, garnished in hanbok, playing the Korean harp with such grace that it makes the scene look as though its a Korean antique landscape painting.
The lighting is a big part of the night tour, according to the Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation. The compartments and trees garner special dim lighting that sometimes pleasantly distorts reality.
“I saw a cherry tree full of white cherry blossoms, and felt dumbfounded when the tour guide said it was in fact a zelkova tree with tricky lighting,” said Byeon Jae-soon, accompanied by her husband and 12-year-old daughter.
“The full moon is breathtakingly beautiful when it is seen from the royal gardens of Nakseonjae,” she added.
Her daughter’s favorite part of the tour was Buyongji, the rectangular lotus pond, and its reflection of the royal library Gujanggak and Buyongjeong Pavillion.
The two-hour night tour also includes a 30-minute traditional concert. Visitors are offered traditional sweet tea and snacks while watching the show.
“I think the tour was a great family night-out,” said Lee Chang-joon, in his 70s, who joined the tour.
“As a kid I grew up in the neighborhood and have special feelings for the Secret Garden. I am more than happy to show my wife and daughter around Changdeokgung Palace.”
By Chung Joo-won (firstname.lastname@example.org)