Its small size, central location and easy access – take exit two from City Hall subway station – ensure that Deoksugung (덕수궁) is often very busy. This was the last of Seoul’s Famous Five palaces to be built, and it became the country’s seat of power almost by default when the Japanese destroyed Gyeongbokgung in 1592, and then again when King Gojong fled here after the assassination of his wife Myeongsong in 1895. Not quite as splendid as the other palaces, Deoksugung is overlooked by the tall grey towers of the City Hall business and embassy area, and includes a couple of Western-style buildings, dating back to when the “Hermit Kingdom” in the latter part of the Joseon dynasty was being forcibly opened up to trade. These neoclassical structures remain the most notable on the complex. At the end of a gorgeous rose garden is Seokjojeon, which was designed by an English architect and built by the Japanese in 1910; the first Western-style building in the country, it was actually used as the royal home for a short time. The second structure, completed in 1938, was designed and built by the Japanese; inside you’ll find the National Museum for Contemporary Art (덕수궁 미술관), whose exhibits are usually quality works from local artists, more often than not blending elements of traditional and modern Korean styles.

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