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Saturday, 15 March 2014

Inside Changgyeonggung, Part IV: The Great Greenhouse - Cultivate your favourite plants inside Changgyeong Palace!

The Great Greenhouse of Changgyeong Palace (Hanja/Romanization: 大溫室/Daeonsil) is the first modern western style glasshouse of its kind in Korea, and was built in 1907. Although Daeonsil was designed by Hayato Fukuba, the former head of Tokyo’s Shinjuku Imperial Garden, it was built by a French company. At the time, the Crystal Palace design was quite popular in the West and Korea’s conservatory was Asia’s largest. Architecturally, the glass house’s design maximizes the amount of sunlight, thanks to the long and narrow pieces of wood that frame sharply pointed arches and windows. To break the monotony, half-circles were also incorporated into Daeonsil‘s design, while the roof’s ridgeline is decorated with plum blossoms. Here’s one interesting fact. Although the Mugunghwa, or Rose of Sharon has long been Korea’s symbolic flower, Japan required Korea’s royal family to adopt the modest plum blossom so as not to compete with Japan’s chrysanthemum-themed throne.

After Korea’s last king, Emperor Sunjong-Yunghui, changed his residence from Deoksugung (덕수궁) to Changdeokgung in 1907, Japanese officials moved to demote Changgyeonggung’s status to that of a public park. In 1909, just one year before Korea’s was formally annexed by Imperial Japan, botanical gardens, a zoo and the country’s first Victorian-style greenhouse were erected on the site. The presence of wild animals on former palace grounds was seen by many Koreans as a grave insult.

The sharply pointed arch and window frames were made with long, thin wood frames with glass panels inserted within. The ridge of the roof is decorated with repeated plum designs typical of royal motifs.  A Renaissance style fountain and labyrinth-style garden is established in the front. The restored glasshouse now holds over 110 kinds of flora, classified into wild flowers, endangered plants and native plants, promising to become an excellent place to study Korean ingenious flowers. 

During the period of Japanese colonization (1910-1945) the palace status was relegated to that of a public park. It remained that way for decades until the massive restoration project in 1983. While the zoo has been scrapped, the greenhouse survived, recognized for its building design and due to it being “the first.” It was designated as registered cultural heritage no. 83 in 2004. 

The palace is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Tuesday. Visitors are free to visit the greenhouse during that time. If you’d like to visit Daeonsil, or Changgyeonggung palace more generally, the Cultural Heritage Administration has introduced a special integrated ticket. For just 10,000 won, you gain unlimited access to all five palaces as well as the Jongmyo Royal Shrine (종묘) for an entire month! It’s a fantastic deal.