Seokjojeon Hall evening tours offer glimpse into past

Seokjojeon Imperial Palace inside Deoksu Palace in Jung District, central Seoul [JOONGANG PHOTO]

Deoksu Palace’s Seokjojeon Hall in Jung District, central Seoul, is holding interactive evening tours this fall, complete with live music, dessert and tea.

Seokjojeon, literally meaning “a hall made of stone,” is an imperial palace known to be the country’s first Western-style, neoclassical château made entirely out of granite and bricks instead of the traditional wood and mud.

French pastries canelé and financier are served alongside hot coffee or iced mulberry tea amid live cello and violin performances at the Night at Seokjojeon tour hosted by the Cultural Heritage Administration and the Korea Cultural Heritage Fo

Resembling a Greek temple from the outside, it served as a meet-and-greet hall and the sleeping quarters of the emperor and empress.

Blueprint of Seokjojeon drawn by Welsh architect J. R. Harding [JOONGANG PHOTO]

Seokjojeon was completed in 1910 and stood to represent the authority of the royal family, the push for modernization, and the effort of Emperor Gojong (1852-1919) to protect national sovereignty against foreign powers and further the Daehan Empire (1897-1910), Korea's monarchical rule. The Japanese invaded shortly afterward, however, and turned Deoksu palace into a public park and zoo. Seokjojeon became an art museum displaying Japanese modern artworks.

The Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) has since restored the palace, and Seokjojeon today is open to the public as The Daehan Empire Historical Museum.

Seokjojeon when its construction was completed in 1910 [JOONGANG PHOTO]

The ongoing tour at Seokjojeon, dubbed Night at Seokjojeon, is jointly curated by CHA and the Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation. The tour takes guests through nine different spaces on the first and second floors of Seokjojeon, including the central hall, the emperor and empress’s bedrooms, the library, dining room and terrace.

The rooms contain several authentic furniture pieces that date back more than a century, offering insight into the lifestyle of the imperial family as well as the Western influences permeating the medieval Joseon Dynasty. The plum blossom design, the seal of the Korean imperial family and the symbol of the Daehan Empire can also be seen imprinted on the building facade as well as the walls and furniture, and even pillows and cushions.

Plum blossom seals on cushions and curtains inside the empress's bedroom at Seokjojeon [LEE JIAN]

The second-floor terrace, closed during the daytime, will exclusively open for visitors on the night tour. An assortment of French pastries and hot coffee or iced mulberry tea will be served, accompanied by live cello and violin performances. Gojong is said to have enjoyed his tea on the terrace as well.

Classical performers play cello and violin on the Seokjojeon's terrace during a press visit to the Night at Seokjojeon tour on Thursday. [LEE JIAN]

Tea time will be followed by a musical performance depicting Emperor Gojong and his consort Queen Min, better known as Empress Myeongseong (1851-1895), in the Audience Chamber.

Through the three songs written specially for this tour, the mini-musical depicts Gojong worrying about the future of Korea on the night when Seokjojeon is finished. He then sees a vision of Empress Myeongseong, assassinated five years earlier by the Japanese, encouraging him not to give up.

Actors Kim Jin-cheol and Park Jong-won play the role of Emperor Gojong, and Bae He-jin and Jeong Su-bin play Empress Myeongseong.

Night at Seokjojeon is usually held twice a year, in spring and fall. Reservations for the current Night at Seokjojeon are currently closed. A total of 480 people signed up for the paid event that began Friday. It is slated to run through Nov. 2.

Actors playing Emperor Gojong and Empress Myeongseong perform a mini musical about the historical figures at Seokjojeon's Audience Chamber, during a press visit to the Night at Seokjojeon tour on Thursday. [LEE JIAN]
Poster of the Night at Seokjojeon tour in Deoksu Palace, slated to be held through Nov. 2 [KOREA CULTURAL HERITAGE FOUNDATION]