The main gate of Geyongbok palace
Gwanghwamun is the very front and southern gate of Gyeonggbok Palace. Mun means gate. Gung in Gyoengbokgung means palace. This gate has a meaning that Kings great virtue shines the entire country. Built in 1395, it has three entrances and a broad, two-story pavilion. Constructed solely out of granite, its center is an entrance that resembles a rainbow, called Hongyemun. Among the three entrances, the one in the center is for the use of the king and the other two on the sides for servants. Above that is a gate tower. These three entrances have imaginary animal Jujak on the ceiling.
Gyeongbokgung or Gyeongbok Palace is surrounded by five-metre-high walls that extend over 1,933 meters. The walls are pierced by four large gates: Geonchunmun to the east, Gwanghwamun to the south, Yeongchumun to the west, and Sinmumun to the north. The names, in that order, symbolize spring and wood, summer and fire, autumn and metal, and winter and water, and originate from the yin and yang concept and the theory of the five elements.
Gwanghwamun was first constructed in 1395 as the main gate to Gyeongbokgung Palace, the main and most important royal palace during the Joseon Dynasty.
Japanese first invasion
During the 1592 Japanese invasion, it was destroyed by fire and left in ruins for over 250 years. Gwanghwamun was reconstructed in 1867 along with the rest of Gyeongbokgung Palace by the order of regent Daewongun during the reign of Emperor Gojong.
Japanese second invasion
After completing their Government-General building, the Japanese intended to remove Gwanghwamun because it was a potent symbol of Gyeongbokgung. in the face of fierce public opposition, however, they instead reluctantly deconstructed and moved Gwanghwamun to the north of the east gate, Geonchunmun, the current location of the National Folk Museum of Korea to make way for the massive Japanese Governor General Building. Gwanghwamun stood until 1926 on this spot.
During and After Korean War
Later on, the Korean War completely destroyed the wooden structure of Gwanghwamun, and its stone base lay in complete disrepair and neglect. In 1963, during Park Chung-hee‘s administration, the stone base was again relocated in front of the Japanese Governor General Building. Gwanghwamun was leveled except for the masonry.
Rebuilding and Moving a couple of times and Restoration
It was rebuilt in 1968 in a different location as a concrete structure quite different from the original,which stood until 1996. In 2006, Gwanghwamun was removed again. Restoration to its original state and location began. The destroyed wooden structure was rebuilt in concrete, while the sign on Gwanghwamun was written in hangul by Park himself. Gwanghwamun remained as a concrete gate until late 2006. Restoration was completed in 2010.
Re-open to the public after the final reconstruction
Gwanghwamun was opened to the public on August 15, 2010, to commemorate Gwangbokjeol, or Liberation Day of Korea. The project cost ₩ 28 billion. A new name plate on the restored Gwanghwamun was unveiled on the same day.
Haetae statues on Street of Six Ministries
Today a haetae, the legendary creature that resembles a lion, is seated on either side of Gwanghwamun Gate. Haetae is also famous cookie brand you can come across at supermarkets in Korea. During the Joseon period, these haetae were located some 80 meters away, on the Street of Six Ministries. A photo taken in the 1890s shows an’L-shaped’ stone in front of one haetae. This stone was a marker telling all citizens below the king to dismount from their carriage there and walk to Gwanghwamun.
I get to visit this area quite often especially to take my friends on a tour to Gyeongbokgung and its vicinity.