Jongmyo shrine is Confucian and requires people to do guided tours (50-60 minutes long) everyday except Saturday (and they are closed on Tuesday). The shrine was founded 1395 and continued to expand until it was burned down by the Japanese in 1592. Reconstruction and expansion began in 1608 and it became a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1995, as it is the ONLY building of its type–the rest in Korea, China and southeast Asia were destroyed by war, invasion or cultural revolutions.

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Upon entry, the tour goes to Hyangdaecheong, then Jaegung, Jeonsacheong, Jeongjeon, ending at Yeongnyeongjeon before going back to the main gate. The back gate is closed (which I found out the hard way by walking around the construction area thinking ‘oh this will end soon…I hope…’). The main walkway has a raised path for spirts to walk on–so you better not walk on it! Later there is another raised walkway, but it is for the King, and thinner. The only time the Queen was allowed in was on her wedding day.

Hyangdaecheong has a square pond opposite it with a circle island in it, which represents the fact that heaven is round and the Earth is flat (although I’m pretty sure the tour guide gave another story so as to not sound like the shrine believed that the Earth is flat) This building was basically a storage area of things either brought by the King or for the King for the ceremonies.

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Jaegung is where the king and the prince cleaned themselves before the ceremony. They may be carried in but must walk out when going onto Jeongjeon which is where the ceremony happened–the thinner walkway I mentioned earlier goes from Jaegung to Jeongjeon.

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Next you will see Jeonsacheong which is where food was prepared for the ceremony. Animals were sacrificed here and food was cooked (although most was raw) as well as presented before being offered to the King and spirits.

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Jeongjeon was the main area for the deceased kings and queens, as it was the largest and had the seven symbols (spirit chambers) of protection.

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Yeongnyeongjeon was the second area for deceased kings and queens, as it was smaller, and was used for kings who did not accomplish as much, people who were in the family line before the Kingdom was made, and the last king who was forced to go to Japan. It has only 4 symbols (spirit chambers) of protection. It was built when Jeongjeon could not be expanded anymore.

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I went to Beongeunsa Temple later in the day, right before getting on my bus back to Busan and it was a beautiful last sight to see–especially if the sign they had hanging was true and it might be no more: ‘The Seoul City Government must withdraw the plan to expropriate the land from Bongeunsa’. This temple was built in 794 and became the head temple of the Seon sect during the Joseon Dynasty (the same dynasty that created Jongmyo shrine). Because this was a Buddhist temple, the fact that the government supported it was a huge step for Buddhism in Korea.

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You enter in though Jinyeo-mun Gate (gate of suchness) and the Sacheonwang-sang (statues of the four celestial Kings) are there. After that, you go up a hill to Beopwang-ru (Dharma King Pavillion). I then went right to Seonbul-dang (building for sellecting Buddhas) and  Daewong-jeon (Main Buddha Hall). Further up is Yeongsan-jeon (Vulture Peak Hall) and Bukgeukgo-jeon (Hall of the Arctic, Hall of the Big Dipper). Starting to go downhill you will come to Mireuk Daebul (Great Statue of Maitreya Buddha) and further down to the Bell Pavillion.

Jinyeo-mun gate and statues were beautiful, and I instantly got sad at the idea of them no longer existing because of something the Seoul government would do. The fact that the gate means ‘gate of suchness’ means ‘things just as they are’–the ultimate truth, which is beyond words, and your journey for it will begin there. The Sacheonwang-sang are special because of the fact that the statues are smiling.

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Beopwang-ru was decorated with red lanterns and had a shrine for praying as well as candles and a donation box. Some of the trees and posts were wrapped in plastic which I thought was a bit odd. It is used for prayers, ceremonies and morning services.

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Seonbul-dang is number 64 in the Tangible Cultural Property of Seoul, whatever that means. Monks were examined here to see if they could become the Buddha. A building such as this will not be found in other temples because of its style.

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Daewong-jeon was used for ceremonial services, practices, prayers and a variety of activities.

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Yeongsan-jeon is a representation of Vulture Peak in India, where Sakyamuni Buddha preached.

Bukgeukgo-jeon is a mystery building, as the brochure does not say what it does.

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Mireuk Daebul is a statue for the future Buddha who vows to save sentient being in the era after the lifetime of Sakyamuni Buddha. It is 23 meters tall.

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The Bell Pavillion is closed so you cannot ring the bell anytime you like, but it is seemingly rung in the morning for services at down.

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