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World Heritage Site

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Changdeokgung Palace Complex

Changdeokgung Palace Complex

The Changdeokgung Palace Complex is the oldest of Seoul's Royal Palaces. It dates from 1405, and is still very well preserved. For the Chosun Dynasty (1392-1910) it served as the main palace for over 300 years.

Attached to the palace is the "Secret Garden", a beautiful landscape garden to be used by the Royal Family only. You can find especially imported trees, pavillions, pagodas, stone bridges and ponds.

One of the buildings in the palace complex still has the old blue tiles, that once were common in Korea. Now Changdeokgung is the only place in Seoul where you still can see this.

Map of Changdeokgung Palace Complex


  • Cultural

Visit September 2001

To be able to take a look inside I had to take part in a guided tour. Normally not my cup of tea, because the time is so limited and other people always get in the way of your pictures. That proved to be the case also this time, but I wouldn't have missed Changdeokung itself.

September 2001

What I liked most - apart from the scenery - was the ondol, the heating system. Traditionally, Korean houses were heated by generating heat under their floors. This system can be seen clearly at Changdeokgung, and it comes with two delicately pretty chimneys too.

September 2001

Community Reviews

Gary Arndt USA - 03-Jul-17

Changdeokgung Palace Complex by Gary Arndt

I visited this site in late 2007.

The Changdeok Palace sits in central Seoul and is an intact, impressive former seat of the Korean monarchy. Unfortunately, the palace seems rather sterile because all of the artifacts and furnishings have been removed. It is a collection of mostly empty buildings. Unlike most World Heritage sites, you can’t just buy a ticket and stroll about the grounds. You have to be with a tour guide, and tours leave about every hour/half hour in different languages. Tours last about an hour.

This, along with the nearby Jongmyo Shrine are the easiest world heritage sites to visit in Seoul.

Read more about the Changdeokgung Palace Complex on my website.

Clyde Malta - 06-May-17 -

Changdeokgung Palace Complex by Clyde

I visited this WHS in April 2017. Having visited all South Korea's WHS, I believe this is one of South Korea's highlights and truly possesses OUV.

Changdeokgung Palace can be visited freely without any tours everyday except Mondays (closed). On the other hand, the Rear/Secret Garden can only be visited with a 90 minute guided tour and can either be booked online in advance (recommended about 2 weeks before visit) or try your luck booking in person on the day.

I chose an afternoon visit as there seemed to be more people booked on the morning visits. I was lucky to visit on a lovely day during Cherry Blossom season. The tour guide gave quite an interesting tour without enough time for photos or for roaming freely whenever the tour was getting a bit boring. Another worthwhile possibility worth keeping in mind are the night time visits. I bought the combined palaces ticket which also includes entry to the Jongmyo Shrine and the Rear Garden.

Chang means prosperity and Deok means virtue. An inscription in the royal palace states that "Only through cultivation of virtue, should prosperity be attained" (referred to the king himself). The palace complex was the preferred palace of many kings in the Joseon dynasty. It served as the centre of administration for state affairs and as royal residence longer than any other palace in Korea.

It was built in 1405 but it was burnt down during the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592 like all other Korean palaces. However it was the first palace to be reconstructed soon after in 1610. Its most distinctive feature is its layout which embraces the natural topography in a narrow space at the foot of a mountain.

The most impressive building is most probably Injeongjeon (the throne hall) which can be seen in Kyle's picture. The Geumcheongyo bridge bears some striking similarities with China's Forbidden Palace bridges. My personal favourite is the Seongjeonggak building (photo) with an apt signboard reading Bochunjeong which means Pavilion of the Announcement of Spring. This is where the crown prince studied Confucian classics. Another striking building is the Nakseonjae complex which is less colourful and used to be used as a library and living quarters. Here it's easy to appreciate the floor heating system as well as the different patterns adorning the firewalls.

All in all, I really enjoyed my visit combined with a morning visit of Gyeokgungbung Palace. The UNESCO inscription plaque is just next to the exit and is quite easy to spot just after finishing the rear garden tour.

Thibault Magnien France - 03-Apr-12

Changdeokgung Palace Complex by Thibault Magnien

The Changdeokgung Palace is the finest example of Korean art and architecture. The building of this palace started in 1405 and was completed in 1412. It was used by many kings of the Joseon dynasty that added some elements to the original complex. The palace was completely destroyed by the Japanese and was rebuilt in 1609. Hit once again by Chinese, French and American, the complex has kept its original shape and plans. Today, 13 royal buildings are still in place in the complex as well as many others for servants the gardens.

The place is very amazing and is a great testimony of the Korean know-how in term of buildings, paintings and architecture, all that in balance with nature.

Ian Cade UK - 04-Nov-11 -

Changdeokgung Palace Complex by Ian Cade

Palaces and me are not the greatest mix, as such I focused my visit here on the picturesque Biwon/ Huwon (Secret Garden) at the rear of the complex. I visited in autumn and the dazzling array of colours in the bright sunshine really made this a lovely place to stroll around and take an inordinate amount of pictures. I really enjoyed just sitting and relaxing next to the small pavilions overlooking the ponds and valleys that litter the gardens, reading a book and taking in the amazing foliage. Access to the Gardens was by guided tour but it was pretty relaxed and if you wanted to just slink off it didn't seem to cause any problems.

Thankfully the powers that be seem to have removed the need to visit the palace only on a guided tour, and now you are free to wander at your leisure. It was rather nice, reminding me of the structures I had seen at the Forbidden City the week before, but here the atmosphere was a little more tranquil.

All in all this was a nice place to spend a few slow hours admiring the wonderful trees, and as there is another WHS just across the road it makes a good place to get your fill of the royal roots of Seoul.

[Site 6: Experience 7]

Kyle Magnuson California - United States of America - 17-Feb-10 -

Changdeokgung Palace Complex by Kyle Magnuson

I visited this beautiful palace on 3 separate occasions in 2008. The palace is exquisite, and each time not only was the tour slightly different, with different guides and during a different season, but also on some occasions the tour goes to other locations inside the palace! So I am very happy I went a couple times.

Changdeokgung is one historic site that suffers a bit from misinformation or at least quick judgement. One being too much restoration or lack of authenticity. Second, the garden is dismissed as forest-like with a couple pavilions and a pond. The later I will address more below. The authenticity questions is fair, yet its also complex. Changdeokgung is the best preserved royal palace in Seoul and much of the layout is intact. This cannot be said for Gyeongbokgung or Deoksugung, which are vastly smaller today and only a handful of structures from the Joseon period remain. It is true the majority of buildings at Changdeokgung Palace are restorations, though it should be understood approximately 1 in 3 are original to the rebuilt palace in the 1600's or from later periods of the Joseon Dynasty. Sadly, the Colonial Period put most Korean historic sites in a dire situation, the palaces (symbols of the dynasty and the nation) were purposely and publicly demoted and some might say "polluted". It was not random chance the adjacent palace from Changdeokgung was turned into a zoo. Therefore, the relatively intact survival of Changdeokgung Palace Complex is exceptional.

The secret garden displays uniquely Korean aesthetics. One being the restraint to not disturb nature's beauty. How can humans improve it? Therefore, the underlying theme of Korean gardens with man-made pavilions, paths, and ponds is to allow the individual to better view nature and its beauty, not control it or artificially create beauty. Essentially, traditional Korean gardens are unforced, the design is in fact aimed to reflect simplicity. Confucian thought certainly has influenced Korean garden design and its seen here at Changdeokgung. 

Read more from Kyle Magnuson here.

Ashleigh USA -

i got to visit here a couple years ago. it was so beautiful. and i enjoyed the different types of entertainment. i'm going to South Korea again for my graduation present and i really want to vist the palace again.

acutally i just remembered that all the shows were at the Korean Folk Village...which was cool too. but the palace was thee best.

C H Ho Hong Kong, China -

The guide tour was good but lack of freedom to walk around the palace. Walking inside the Secret Garden is very relax and comfortable.

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Site Info

Full name: Changdeokgung Palace Complex

Unesco ID: 816

Inscribed: 1997

Type: Cultural

Criteria: 2   3   4  

Link: By Name By ID

Site History

  • 1997 - Inscribed 


The site has 1 locations.

  • Changdeokgung Palace Complex


The site has 34 connections.


  • Wooden architecture
  • Feng Shui: "The palace was built between Peak Maebong of Mt. Bugaksan in the back and Rivulte Geumcheon having flowing in the front influenced by the principle "baesanimsu" in Feng Shui theory. - wiki


  • Libraries: Changdeokgung Palace's Court Library in the secret garden
  • Notable Bridges: Geumcheongyo Bridge
  • Glazed tiles: Seonjeongjeon still has the old-style glazed blue tiles, that once were common in Korea. Now Changdeokgung is one of the only places in Korea these tiles can still be found
  • Historic Pharmacies: The Naeuiwon (Infirmary) "It's here that the royal doctors of the court took care of the King and his family. It was also called "Yakbang", which literally means a pharmacy. In the Seongjeonggak, the main building of the Naeuiwon complex, there are some tables. Which mean "do one's best to take care of the king and his family". They were written by King Jeongjo himself." -
  • Sundial: Angbuilgudae (Pedestal of Hemerspherical Sundial) "Total of 10 Angubuilgu still exist. They can be found in Changgyeonggung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, Gyeongbokgung Palace, and Deoksugung Palace." - Korean Cultural Heritage 2 (2007) pg 169



  • Coronation Locations: For most of the Korean Joseon Dynasty
  • Joseon Dynasty
  • Treaties: Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty of 1910 "In modern Korea, the treaty is also commonly called "Hanil Hapbang Neugyak," which simply means a coerced (and hence invalid) treaty." (wiki) Injeong-jeon, main hall of Changdeokgung - "The annexation treaty between Korean and Japan was signed here at Injeong-jeon in 1910, putting an end to the Joseon Dynasty." - A field Guide to History: Seoul written by Korea Cultural and Historical Survey Society. (2007) Excerpt pg. 139
  • Eunuchs
  • Contains significant structures from the 20th Century: "The last building to be added was the New Sonwonjon Shrine, which was constructed in 1921 to house the ancestral royal portraits. Originally sited beside the Injongjon (throne hall), it was moved during the Japanese occupation to a less important location in the north-east corner of the compound." - AB Evaluation
  • Insurrections: Imo Incident - "Dissatisfaction with the Korean government was the initial focus of the violence. Some government officials were killed by the rioters. Homes of high government ministers were destroyed and Changdeok Palace was occupied by soldiers. The rioting general population of Seoul swelled the ranks of the dissatisfied army units. In the midst of the chaos, the regent father of the king, Daewongun, took power and tried to re-establish order. He supported soldiers' complaints." - wiki

Human Activity

  • Man-made Terraces: "The garden was landscaped with a series of terraces planted with lawns, flowering trees, flowers, a lotus pool and pavilions set against a wooded background." - AB Document (Unesco Description)

Individual People

  • Gertrude Bell: Photo taken May 1903
  • Hendrick Hamel : Hamel visited court numerous times to entertain or speak to King Hyojong the 17th Ruler of Joseon
  • Toyotomi Hideyoshi: Changdeokgung Palace and Jongmyo Shrine were both razed during Hideyoshi's disastarous campaign to conquer Korea and China in the late 16th century. Both sites were rebuilt following the end of the Imjin War.
  • Homer B. Hulbert: "The 6th of June (1895) witnessed a great celebration in Seoul which has gone down in history as Independence Day A fete was held in the Old Palace (Changdeokgung) which exceeded in brilliancy any similar demonstration since the opening of Korea to foreign relations." A photograph captioned "A picturesque nook in the Old Palace" is included on the adjacent page. - The Passing of Korea by Homer Hulbert (pg. 132)

Religion and Belief

  • Confucianism: The architectural style of Changdeokgung Palace, demonstrate features of simplicity and frugality, reflecting the Confucian ideology of the Joseon Dynasty.
  • Phoenix: Changdeokgung's Throne Hall, centered in the staircase is a carving of a phoenix, representing authority and the king


  • Built in the 15th century: In the early 15th century, the Emperor T'aejong ordered the construction of a new palace at an auspicious site.


  • Located in a Capital City: Seoul (Capital of South Korea)
  • Guided Tour Only: Tours are offered in Korean, English, Chinese, and Japanese. "To visit Changdeok Palace and Biwon Garden, you must be on an tour." -
  • WHS within walking distance: Seoul
  • Built or owned by Japanese: In 1920 The Japanese regime destroyed parts of the complex and a Japanese building was constructed in the palace courtyard.
  • Dragon: "If you delve further into the palace grounds, you'll come upon the royal residence buildings. You can distinguish the king's bedchamber from the queen's by the former's roof ridgeline that's called yongmaru, or the dragon's spine. The dragon was the symbol of the king." -
  • Poetic Quotations: The Ongnyucheon (Stream) - located in the norternmost section of the secret garden. It was in 1636 that the curve waterway and the waterfall were made here. Just next to the Eojeong well, there is a large natural rock called "Soyoam" on which a curved waterway in the shape of "L" is carved and a poem inscribed. At the end of the rock, there is a manmade waterfall as well. The inscription on this rock was written by King Injo himself, the poem on it is assumed to have been engraved in 1690, in light of the note just beside the poem, which reads: "The stream flows away beyond the measurement, and the waterfall plummets down from the sky. These remind me of white rainbow, thunder, and light all over the valley." - King Injo (1690)
  • Role of Women: Royal Family used the garden exclusively along with court women
  • One million visitors or more: "Of the four palaces, Gyeongbok attracted the most visitors, with 2.97 million, followed by Changdeok with 897,000, Deoksu with 703,000 and Changgyeong with 475,000." January to June 2016 (1/2 year)

WHS Hotspots

WHS on Other Lists

  • Cultural WHS set within an IUCN recognised protected area: Changdeokgung Rear Garden Ecosystem and Landscape Conservation Area, IUCN category IV (Habitat/Species Management Area)
  • Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible heritage: Daemokjang, traditional wooden architecture - "Wooden architecture has a long history in Korea. Among the best examples are Changdeokgung Palace and Bulguksa Temple, which are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. These architectural treasures were constructed under the command of daemokjang. In this sense, traditional Korean wooden architecture, built and restored with the skills and knowledge of daemokjang, are appreciated not as mere buildings, but as works of art." - Intangible Heritage Nomination File  Link
  • Memory of the World: The "Donguibogam, Principles and Practice of Eastern Medicine" text was first printed (1610-13) and kept at the Palace Dispensary (Naeui-won) within Changdeokgung palace. In the wake of the Imjin War, King Seongju commissioned Heo Jun to complete the important work to promote the psychological, physical, and social health of the populace. - (Information from "Korean Documents on Unesco's Memory of the world Register" 2009) The "Seungjeongwon Ilgi, the Diaries of the Royal Secretariat" was housed in the Royal Secretariat office. The building is located in Changdeokgung palace, between the Royal audience hall and council hall. The diary entries were entered daily and left an official record of the Joseon dynasty. - (Information from "Korean Documents on Unesco's Memory of the world Register" 2009)


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