Visitors to Huijeongdang, a facility within Changdeokgung Palace in Seoul's Jongno-gu District, cheered when a 100-year-old chandelier was lit. They looked surprised that a building that old could have electric lighting.
Fourteen visitors on Nov. 11 at 2p.m. went on a limited tour of Huijeongdang, which went from the Joseon Dynasty king's bed chamber to his workplace, seeing the unique harmony between traditional and modern elements inside the building.
The Changdeokgung management office at the Royal Palaces and Tombs Center of the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) opened from Oct. 21 to Nov. 14 the building's interior to visitors, with this year being its centennial birthday.
Located between Seonjeongjeon, the king's office, and Daejojeon, the queen's quarters, Huijeongdang was the communal residence hall of the royal couple during the Joseon Dynasty. Its name was changed in 1496 from the original Soongmoondang to Huijeongdang in the second year of King Yeonsan's reign, and the Chinese characters for the name means "to unfold bright politics."
The building was initially used as the king's bed chamber but later changed to his office, where he conducted daily affairs. The building's structure has the form of the Hangeul letter "ㅁ" (square). In the middle is Donghaengak, where the central garden and the royal family's lounge are, and Seohaengak, the location of the reception hall and royal family management office.
Huijeongdang burned down in 1917 and was rebuilt in 1920. Its exterior features the traditional style of Joseon architecture but the interior incorporates Western elements such as the chandelier and radiators, so the building is a harmony of both traditional and modern.
The visitors went to Donghaengak, the reception hall and Seohaengak in that order in their hour-long tour.
The tourists entered Huijeongdang through the western building's entrance, where parking was available. Before heading to Donghaengak, guide Lee Jong-chun said the building had a modern bathroom.
The bathroom's urinal, flush toilet, sink and boiler were all made in London, and Lee said the sink faucet had the English words "hot" and "cold" written in capital letters.
When visitors entered Donghaengak, a place of rest for the royal family, he said it once had a radiator, something that changed the building's heating system from the traditional ondol (heated floor) to central heating.
After passing Donghaengak and entering the reception hall, the largest area in Huijeongdang, visitors were drawn to the red carpet and the fancy chandelier. Underneath the ceiling decorated with traditional Korean designs were the roll-top desk, which was prevalent in Europe in the early 20th century, large mirrors and other Western furniture.
King Sunjong (1874-1926) is believed to have been influenced by Marie Antoinette Sontag, the sister-in-law of a Russian diplomat, in furnishing Huijeongdang with a Western touch. She was the first to introduce coffee to King Gojong (1852-1919).
The lighting of the six chandeliers instantly made the dark room bright. Two tours of Huijeongdang have been held since its reconstruction began in October 2018, with the installation of electricity, lightbulbs, wallpaper and carpet completed.
The CHA plans to open to the public the king's residential quarters in Daejojeon once its curtains are restored and bathrooms fixed. This year's tours of Huijeongdang ended on Nov. 14 and will resume in next year's first half.
By Kim Young Deok and Lee Jihae