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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?