Located in the centre of Suwon’s Hwaseong Fortress is the Hwaseong Haenggung (화성행궁), the largest temporary palace among many others located outside of Seoul. It was used by the Joseon kings since the time of King Jeongjo (r. 1776-1800). This was the palace where King Jeongjo used to stay when he paid respects at his father’s tomb. In addition, it was the location of a splendid feast held on his mother, Hyegyeonggung Hong’s 60th birthday, as well as award ceremonies for successful candidates of special national exams.
Just like other palaces in Korea, there is an admission fee if you wish to visit Hwaseong Haenggung – KRW1,500 (S$1.80). It is open from 9 am to 6 pm daily from March to October, & the rest of the year, it is open at the same time but closes 1 hour earlier at 5 pm.
Before the trip, I was kinda looking forward to visiting the temporary palace as it seems like the best in terms of scale (576 rooms!) & significance. Hwaseong was like a 2nd hometown to King Jeongjo. I could even picture the grand sight of it being surrounded by the fortress in my head. So I happily made my way down to the temporary palace from Seojangdae, the highest point of Paldalsan where I was at that morning.
Yes, the entrance does look quite grand, just like the major palaces we see in Seoul. I even happened to meet a Singapore couple who had just finished their tour, & helped me to take a “I’ve been here” photo. 😛 But I was a bit disappointed when I bought my ticket & asked about the free guided tour. For some reason, that day seemed to be an excursion day where many schools brought the students here for some outdoor lesson, so tour groups for the afternoon were fully booked. Furthermore, it was almost noon when I reached Haenggung = lunch break for the guides as well. Arrghh, that meant I had to just roam around on my own in the historical site, so I would miss all those interesting insights of the historical temporary palace. 😦 No choice, I only had a few more hours left in Suwon before I would return to Seoul, so I just went in to explore on my own. Sad that I wouldn’t be able to share interesting stories that I could have heard, other than those I could read on the information boards…
Upon entering this site, the life-size figurines of Daejanggeum (대장금) & Min Jeong-ho (민정호) the outstanding scholar in the famous 2003 Korean drama “Jewel in the Palace” (대장금) will appear before your eyes. It was thanks to this hit drama that Hwaseong Haenggung became a popular tourist attraction, so I guess they’ve to put these here. Another popular Korean reality-variety show 2 Days 1 Night (2박1일) also shot 1 episode here in 2013.
Standing near the other side of the entrance from the celebrity posters of Daejanggeum, is the sacred Zelkova tree (느티나무) that is said to have stood & protected Suwon city at this spot for over 600 years even before the Haenggung was erected. It was believed that there was a God of the tree that would punish anyone who broke one of its leaves or branches. A the plaque near the tree writes: “Make a wish for your family or friends to the tree, which still holds the spirit of King Jeongjo. Write your wish on the paper & tie it to a straw rope around the tree.” The Koreans believe your wish will come true if you make one here. As the saying goes, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”, so I followed the instructions & did the same. 😉
Completed in 1790, Jungyangmun comprises a main gate & 2 side gates. This gate was the important marker that defined where the royal family members & ministers would sit, versus the other officials during the time when a feast (Jinchanryei) was held at Bongsudang (the royal audience chamber, located behind the students in the pic above).
In the Haenggak (servants’ quarters), located behind Bongsudang (봉수당) & Jangnakdang (장락당), there were life-size statues illustrating the common activities of the court ladies & eunuchs, such as getting dressed up (top left pic in collage), performing needlework (top right pic), getting ready for an outing (bottom left pic) & reading a book (bottom right pic).
The way to Bongsudang is split into 3 roads, with the middle one being the widest on a raised platform, which only the King could walk on. It is called Eodo or King’s Road (어도), while the side ones were for subjects. The right road is for civil officers & the left one is for military officers. Collectively this is known as Three Ways. So if you visit Haenggung, remember to walk on the middle road, so that you can be the King for the time you walk on this road. 😛
With this, I ended my 45-min short tour in this historical monument, feeling somewhat bored & disappointed with the lack of a guided tour. Furthermore, guess I came at the wrong time when the temporary palace was filled with rowdy elementary school students who ran around like monkeys trying to complete their assignments within the compounds. I presumed they were doing some quiz as all were searching for answers anxiously all over… -_-
It’s a pity I didn’t enjoy as much as I had hoped for. I hope you’d have a better experience if you visit Hwaseong Haenggung! 😉