According to UNESCO, Jongmyo Shrine is the oldest and the most authentic of the Confucian royal shrines to have been preserved. It was built in dedication to the forefathers of Joseon dynasty in 14th century by Lee Seong Gye, the first and founding father of the dynasty, to house the tablets of teachings of the members of the former royal family. It was registered as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1995 for its well-preserved ancient customs such as its memorial service called “Jongmyo Jerye”, and its traditional ceremonial music called Jongmyo Jaeryeak. Most parts of the shrine are restorations since a lot had been damaged during the Japanese invasion.

Jongmyo Shrine 종묘대제 - South Korea
Jongmyo Shrine 종묘대제 – South Korea

 

HEAVEN MEETS EARTH

Once inside the shrine, the first noticeable thing is the pond to the left and another one just a little farther to the right. Each pond is square to represent Earth and in the middle of the pond is a small round island to represent the heavens.

The pond on the left side of the entrance of Jongmyo Shrine 종묘대제 in Seoul, South Korea.
The pond on the left side of the entrance of Jongmyo Shrine 종묘대제 in Seoul, South Korea.
The pond on the right side of the entrance of Jongmyo Shrine 종묘대제 in Seoul, South Korea.
The pond on the right side of the entrance of Jongmyo Shrine 종묘대제 in Seoul, South Korea.

 

SOLEMNITY and ADMITTANCE 

One very distinctive feature of Jongmyo Shrine is the 3-forked path of slightly raised roads which are built for the king, the crown prince and the spirits. Our guide made sure that we avoid certain path walks to show respect to the ancestors of the Joseon Dynasty. The tour around the shrine is a very solemn walk so we also tried to keep our voices low. Back in the Joseon Dynasty period, only people paying formal homage to the royal ancestors were admitted to the inside of the shrine so being here was such a great honor.

Our tour guide showing us certain paths that are only reserved for the king, the crown prince and the spirits at Jongmyo Shrine 종묘대제 in Seoul, South Korea.
Our tour guide showing us certain paths that are only reserved for the king, the crown prince and the spirits at Jongmyo Shrine 종묘대제 in Seoul, South Korea.
A solemn walk around Jongmyo Shrine 종묘대제 in Seoul, South Korea.
A solemn walk around Jongmyo Shrine 종묘대제 in Seoul, South Korea.
The colors of red and green are used at Jongmyo shrine 종묘대제 to symbolize solemnity, piety, and sublimity because bright colors would not allow the spirits of the kings and queens to rest in peace.
The colors of red and green are used at Jongmyo shrine 종묘대제 to symbolize solemnity, piety, and sublimity because bright colors would not allow the spirits of the kings and queens to rest in peace.
The colors of red and green are used at Jongmyo shrine 종묘대제 to symbolize solemnity, piety, and sublimity because bright colors would not allow the spirits of the kings and queens to rest in peace.
The colors of red and green are used at Jongmyo shrine 종묘대제 to symbolize solemnity, piety, and sublimity because bright colors would not allow the spirits of the kings and queens to rest in peace.
The King at Jongmyo Shrine 종묘대제 – South Korea
The King at Jongmyo Shrine 종묘대제 – South Korea

 

The courtyard that leads to the main hall of Jongmyo Shrine 종묘대제 in Seoul, South Korea.
The courtyard that leads to the main hall of Jongmyo Shrine 종묘대제 in Seoul, South Korea.

 

JEONGJEON and YEONGNYEONGJEON

The highlight of the shrine is the hall where the ceremonies were held. The main shrine, Jeongjeon, has 49 royal spirit tables and 19 different windowless rooms, all honoring 19 different Joseon dynasty kings. This was constructed in 1395. The giant pillars really stood out painted in red,  and the wide and spacious courtyard also gave an additional character to the shrine.

Jeongjeon (정전), the main hall at Jongmyo Shrine 종묘대제 in Seoul, South Korea, has 49 royal spirit tables and 19 different windowless rooms, all honoring 19 different Joseon dynasty kings.
Jeongjeon (정전), the main hall at Jongmyo Shrine 종묘대제 in Seoul, South Korea, has 49 royal spirit tables and 19 different windowless rooms, all honoring 19 different Joseon dynasty kings.
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Jeongjeon (정전), the main hall at Jongmyo Shrine 종묘대제 in Seoul, South Korea, has 49 royal spirit tables and 19 different windowless rooms, all honoring 19 different Joseon dynasty kings.
The spacious courtyard in front of Jeongjeon (정전) at Jongmyo Shrine 종묘대제 in Seoul, South Korea, where the Jongmyo Jerye or memorial service is performed.
The spacious courtyard in front of Jeongjeon (정전) at Jongmyo Shrine 종묘대제 in Seoul, South Korea, where the Jongmyo Jerye or memorial service is performed.
Another view of the spacious courtyard in front of Jeongjeon (정전) at Jongmyo Shrine 종묘대제 in Seoul, South Korea, where the Jongmyo Jerye or memorial service is performed.
Another view of the spacious courtyard in front of Jeongjeon (정전) at Jongmyo Shrine 종묘대제 in Seoul, South Korea, where the Jongmyo Jerye or memorial service is performed.

 

Through time, Jeongjeon shrine needed more space to house more spirit tables and more area for the later kings. As an annex, the smaller shrine, Yeongnyeongjeon (Hall of Eternal Peace), was built. It has 34 spirit tablets of lesser kings in six rooms.

The smaller shrine, Yeongnyeongjeon 영녕전 (Hall of Eternal Peace), was built as an annext to Jeongjeon. It has 34 spirit tablets of lesser kings in six rooms.
The smaller shrine, Yeongnyeongjeon 영녕전 (Hall of Eternal Peace), was built as an annext to Jeongjeon. It has 34 spirit tablets of lesser kings in six rooms.
The courtyard at the smaller shrine, Yeongnyeongjeon 영녕전 (Hall of Eternal Peace), the annext to Jeongjeon with 34 spirit tablets of lesser kings in six rooms.
The courtyard at the smaller shrine, Yeongnyeongjeon 영녕전 (Hall of Eternal Peace), the annext to Jeongjeon with 34 spirit tablets of lesser kings in six rooms.

 

The colors of red and green are used at Jongmyo shrine to symbolize solemnity, piety, and sublimity because bright colors would not allow the spirits of the kings and queens to rest in peace. The solemnity of the shrine is unlike any other tourist spots we have been to in Seoul. It is very quiet and it reminded  me of Fushimi Inari Taisha  in Kyoto, only Jongmyo Shrine is a lot less creepier.
Jongmyo Shrine 종묘대제 in Seoul, South Korea.
Jongmyo Shrine 종묘대제 in Seoul, South Korea.
Jongmyo Shrine 종묘대제 in Seoul, South Korea.
Jongmyo Shrine 종묘대제 in Seoul, South Korea.

 

PS. While waiting for our tour to start, our guide, Mr. Mark, gave a spontaneous lesson on Hangul, the official language of South Korea. It was surprisingly easy to learn! However, while I am quick to learn, I am also quick to forget. Oh well. Maybe another addition to my bucket list?

 

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