Monday, November 30, 2015

A Great day of history and Spaghetti, afterwards.

Last weekend we had a real treat of a visit to Deoksu Palace with an official guide, followed by a meal in a quant little restaurant which served up a whole selection of different spaghetti dishes. This palace is among the famous five palaces located around Seoul. The palace can be found along the oldie, woldie street which has its distinctive and quant cobbled wall. Of course, being from England, I know this street well because it is located along the wall in which on one of these side streets leads to the British Embassy. Deoksu Palace's main exit serves as the main entrance but it used to be a side entrance - due to the main entrance having to makeway for modern road progress.  As a visitor to downtown Seoul,  you may have noticed it is popular among visitors for the changing of the guard. 

Last Saturday, after meeting the Meet-up leader,  as well as the rest of our group of four, we then entered the entrance of the palace where we met one guide who took us on a tour around the grounds of the palace. You can learn alot about the turbulent history of Korea, and especially about the last King of the Joseon dynasty whose son became the first King of Korea, which is an interesting fact. The last dynasty of Korea was the Joseon dynasty which lasted from 1392 all the way until 1910. Over the reign of Joseon, Seoul became the capital city and center of state affairs. Throughout the years, the kings had many grand palaces built here – five of them are currently open to the public. For those looking to explore the history and culture of Seoul, a tour of the Five Grand Palaces is a great way to spend a few days. 

If you have visited this palace, Daehanmun (Gate) is the gate which you will soon notice is one of the main attractions among visitors, and foreigners for its changing of the guard ceremony. It  was originally called Daeanmun and was the eastern gate of the palace. The main gate was originally the south-facing Inwhamun Gate. Due to the construction of new roads in front of Daeanmun, the east-side of the palace became the center of the city,and Daeanmun took the role of the main gate. The literal meaning of Daeanmun is “being greatly peaceful” but it was renamed Daehanmun after the maintenance work in 1906. The meaning of Daehan is “Seoul becomes prosperous”.

Doeksu Palace was first used by the Joseon Dynasty King Gojong and his elderly father, as a secondary residence, but after the great fire of his main residence by the Japanese Doksu Palace became his main palace. King Gojong moved his main residence to here as well as using other residents around Seoul. This palace had to undergo a major rebuilding after fire destroyed most of the structure.  During my tour, I learned many things. It was at this site that the infamous signing of Japan–Korea Annexation Treaty, was made by representatives of the Empire of Japan and the Korean Empire on August 22, 1910. In this treaty, Japan formally annexed Korea following the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1905 by which Korea became the protectorate of Japan and Japan–Korea Treaty of 1907 by which Korea was deprived of the administration of internal affairs.  I learned about how the nation of Korea was hoodwinked into handing over the sovereignty of Korea to the Japanese Emperor; the Japanese claimed that theJapanKorea-Japan treaty was legitimate and legal, but subsequent investigations have exposed the truths that Japan forged the oringinal seal. The seal of the Emporer of Korea was claimed to be used as a ligimate legal device, but subsequently,it has been found out that his name in the document is a forgery,  and also the seal is not his official seal, but just a copy; the King refused to have anything to do with this co-ersed ceremony;  when Russia was making in-roads into Far East, Japan offered to be a Protectorate for Korea under the auspices of protecting it from foreign aggression, mainly Russia. It was during this era that Japan took over Dok Island and built a watchtower there. I learned that the special royal seal which was allegedly used in the signing ceremony which annexed Korea into the Japanese Empire was in fact a replica - a  forgery. The legality of the Treaty would later be disputed by the exiled Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea as well as the South Korean government. While the treaty was affixed with the national seal of the Korean Empire, Emperor Sunjong of Korea refused to sign the treaty as required under Korean law. The treaty was instead signed by Prime Minister Lee Wan-yong of the Korean Empire, and Resident General Count Terauchi Masatake of the Empire of Japan. The Korean Prime Minister, although he was co-ersed into signing, is regarded in Korean history as "a traitor."

This issue caused considerable difficulty in negotiating the establishment of basic diplomatic relations between the countries. Korea insisted on including a chapter stipulating "The treaty was null and void". A compromise was reached in language of Article II of the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations: 

There’s an interesting story behind Deoksu Palace– it wasn’t a palace at all to begin with: After the Japanese invasion in 1592, all of the royal palaces had been destroyed or at the very least heavily damaged. A temporary palace had to be chosen from the royal houses, and this was it. King Gwanghaegun named it Gyeongungung and made it an official royal palace. It didn’t get its current name – "Palace of Virtuous Longevity" – until 1907 in a doomed attempt to ensure the longevity of King Gojong. As I said, he was the last Joseon king and first emperor of Korea, and he died in 1919 at the palace. This palace is unique amongst the five for having many western-style buildings. It also has lovely forested gardens and an art museum on site. As I found out during my tour, its architecture has both Russian as well as Japanese architecture; the tumultuous events during this era are reflected in the buildings we saw. 

After our tour, as I mentioned above,we then strolled down some quant old streets to reach the quant restaurant which is so cute and lovely, with a low ceiling inside which reminded me of old style houses. The menu was a selection of tasty spaghetti.

I enjoyed our historical excusion and meal. Although the tour highlights the worst and most sad part of Korea's history, I learned many things which I learned you cannot find in a Korean textbook because this era is not something which the Korean government wants to expose. If, however, you find anything to the contrary in Korean textbooks, now or in the future, please let me know. -Thanks.

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