Changdeokgung & Secret Garden: Korean Music in Ancient Palace

Changdeokgung is one of 5 grand palaces in Seoul. It’s the only palace that listed as UNESCO World Heritage. And it’s also my favorite palace. I’ve been to this palace three times, but I just realized I haven’t posted anything about it here. ><

I went to this palace for the first time when KTO had an event called “Korean Music in Ancient Palace” last year. Through this event, I can learn more about Korean traditional music and saw the performance directly in the ancient palace. It was very amazing experience, I felt like a royal family member. Haha.

Changdeokgung was constructed in 1405 as secondary palace of Joseon Dinasty. Different from Gyeongbokgung where its building was arranged more symmetrically on single axis, Changdeokgung was built following the original topography. It placed the buildings in the bosom of the valleys along the foot of the mountain to represent the atypical architectural beauty of Korean palaces. Such nature-friendly construction is quite rare among the palaces in Northeast Asia. Hence, it’s considered as Korean style. Changdeokgung maintains its original form better than any other remaining palaces of the Joseon Dynasty and it was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage in 1997 for its excellent arrangement with nature.

Entrance of Secret Garden, Changdeokgung

Entrance of Secret Garden, Changdeokgung

Changdeokgung served as main palace for about 270 years, the longest time among other palaces of Joseon. It has a beautiful back garden, which is better known as the Secret Garden. It has beautiful pavilions, ponds, trees, and shaped stones inside. Why is it called as “Secret Garden”? Everytime I come here, I always hear someone ask this question. LOL. It was called Secret Garden because only King or higher royal officials are permitted to enter the garden. But heyy, now everyone can enter it! On Korean Music in Ancient Palace event, the main performance area is the Secret Garden. Professor Kim Heesun from Kookmin University acted as commentator and giving an explanation before each of performances.

The first performance was Pansori. It is a Korean genre of musical storytelling performed by a vocalist (소리꾼) and a gosu – a drummer playing a barrel drum called buk (북). That time, a passage from Chunhyangga was presented. It depicts the scene where Mongryong who left Chunhyang in his hometown and studied hard in Seoul writes the state examination held in Chundangdae inside Changdeokgung and wins the first place. The pansori was performed in Yeonghwadang Pavilion where Chundangdae located in front of it! There’s also a square lotus pond called Buyongji next to the pavilion. Here’s a short clip of the Pansori performance:

The second performance was Daegeum, a large bamboo flute with wide sound ranges.

This was performed in Seungjaejeong pavillion, which is located near Jeondokjong Pavilion. On the north site of Jeondokjong pavilion hangs a tablet with writings of King Jeongjo dating to 1798, late in his reign. It reads. “All streams of the world have moons reflected on them, but there is only one moon in the sky. The moon in the sky is me, the king, and the streams are you, my subjects. It is the principle of the universe that the streams follow the moon.” There’s also pond in these pavilion vicinity which is shaped in unusual gourd-shaped curvedness. This pond is called Bandoji Pond (Peninsula Pond) because at first glance it looks like Korean Peninsula turned upside down. By Korean Peninsula, it means the north is included.

The last performance was a dance performance called Jeongjae “Chunaengjeon”. It is known to have been created by Crown Prince Hyomyeong of the Joseon Dynasty, the son of King Sunjo, to congratulate the 40th birthday of his mother. It depicts a beautiful figure of a nightingtale singing on a branch of a tree on an early spring day. The performer was a middle-aged woman, but her elegant beauty fascinated me.

It is performed in Euiduhap area. And to reach this place, I need to pass a gate called Bullomun which literally means “never getting old gate”. It’s made from one big stone that carved into a gate. It’s believed to give blessing of eternal youth to anybody who passes through the gate. Interesting. Kkkk.

If you’re into history and architecture, you might find this book about Changdeokgung interesting. Try give it a read!

Well these areas mentioned here are only small part of the Secret Garden. I had a chance to visit more area, like Yeongyeongdang and Ongnyucheon, when I went to Changdeokgung through my university field trip. And I really like it. If you’re coming to Korea, I highly recommend you to visit Changdeokgung and its Secret Garden.

Here are more photos from the palace & secret garden.

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Changdeokgung Palace
99 Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Phone +82 2-762-8261/9513

– Opening Hours
Feb – May, Sep – Oct 09:00-18:00
Jun – Aug 09:00-18:30
Nov – Jan 09:00-17:30
* Closed on Mondays
* Tickets can be purchased prior to one hour before the palace closes

– Admission
– The Palace
Adults 3000 KRW / Group (10 persons or more) 2400 KRW
– The Secret Garden (Required to purchase a palace ticket)
Adults 5000 KRW / Children KRW 2500
* No group discounts available
* Only guided tours are available in the secret garden, so check the guided tours schedule
* There are only 100 tickets available per tour. 50 booked in advance by internet and the rest are sold on site the day of tour.
* Link to booking:

It’s better if you join free guided tours to get more information about the palace. There are Korean, English, Japanese, and Chinese guide available. I joined the English guided tour, and the guide is very helpful. She is willing to answer any question and has a good sense of humor, too.

– Guided Tours
– The Palace tours
Korean 09:30, 11:30, 13:30, 15:30, 17:30
English 10:30, 14:30
Japanese 12:30
Chinese 10:00
– The Secret Garden Tours (~90 mins)
Korean 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 13:00, 14:00, 15:00, 16:00, 16:30
English 11:30, 13:30, 15:30 (Feb – Oct)
Japanese 10:30, 14:30
Chinese 12:30

– Transportation
– Subway
Jongno 3-ga Station (Line 1, 3, or 5, Exit 6)
Anguk Station (Line 3 Exit 3)
– Bus
Blue Bus: 109, 151, 162, 171, 172, 272
Green Bus: 7025

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