Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Jongmyo Shrine

Last week, we were let out of school early for Parent's Day. To celebrate, I went downtown to see Jongmyo Shrine before my Korean class. Earlier this year, I saw Dongmyo, but Jongmyo is much more impressive. Located in central Seoul (right next to Jongno 3 Ga), I feel kind of silly for never having visited the shrine. Especially since it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Jongmyo was commissioned by King Taejo (the founder of the Joseon dynasty) and is the shrine for all of the past kings and queens (plus some other honored guests). I almost didn't go last week because there weren't any English tours available, but I decided to suck it up and do a tour in Korean.

My Korean level is decent (I'm starting the advanced level at the Korea Foundation next week!), but historical words are hard. I probably understood some 80% of the words, but all of the important ones were lost. Since some of these words were difficult for Koreans as well, the tour guide did explain them quite well. For example, she started the tour by explaining the word Jongmyo (종묘) as there is confusion over the difference between a tomb and a shrine. 종 means ancestral and 묘 is normally a place to do ancestral rites. Nobody is buried at Jongmyo.

The first building we looked at (behind the tour guide in the picture above) was Hyangdaecheong. This building acted as storage and a waiting room for those coming to the shrine.

We walked along a road that had an elevated strip in the middle. This elevated strip was for the king, while the strips on the left and the right were for other high-ranking officials (rankings I didn't know). Women weren't allowed to perform the ancestral rites (제사), but a queen could have her tablet (신실) enshrined after her death. Equality after death.   
 Next, we saw Jaegung. Here, the king and crown prince would prepare before doing the rites. There was a building for the king, a building for the crown prince, and a bathing facility. The picture below is the king's room (Eojaesil).

After walking through Jaegung, we stopped in front of Jeonsacheong, where the food was prepared. I had 제사밥 a while back in Andong, and it was delicious, in a very plain way. 냠냠.

The next building was the most impressive: Jeongjeon. Jeongjeon is te main hall of Jongmyo. While it started off as a small shrine, when a king or queen died, a new hall was added. This continued until there were 19 chambers (and had to be stopped or it would rival the size of China's royal shrine... I think).  

Under King Sejong, a second shrine, Yeongnyeongjeon, was built to accommodate more tablets. As you can see in the picture below, there are four shrines with a raised roof. These shrines house King Taejo's ancestors.

If you want to visit Jongmyo, the English tours are at 10, 12, 2, and 4pm (but closed on Tuesdays). On Saturdays, you can visit the shrine without a guided tour. With the English booklet, that might be the best way to enjoy the shrine. The entrance fee is 1,000 won.

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