Jongmyo Shrine

Preparation room for the Crown Prince
This shrine was our last touristy thing on my list for Seoul. The Jongmyo shrine houses the spirit tablets of all of the kings of the Joseon dynasty and their queens. Named a UNESCO World Heritage site, as well as getting awards for intangible culture and heritage for its ceremonies and music, we are glad that we went. It was built in the late 1300’s, but was destroyed in the 1500s during the Japanese invasion.It was rebuilt in the 1600s and remains the same as it was when it was rebuilt. I love how the sights here have so much more history and time on their side vs. anything in the United States!  The only way to get into the shrine was with a tour group, so we went on an English language tour and it helped us have a better appreciation for its history. 
The shrine is only opened up completely and used two times a year when ceremonies are performed to honor the dead. The king used to come and make offerings of raw meat and grains to the spirit tablets to call his predecessors down from heaven. Dancers dance and musicians play musical instruments in a celebration.  It is all based on Confucianism and the concept of filial piety- that descendants revere and respect their elders. The tour guide explained that Koreans have little shrines in their houses for their ancestors and provide offerings to them on the same days as the big celebration at the shrine.  Koreans bury their dead, but I think they do offerings to the spirit tablet much like we put flowers or a wreath on a grave. Maybe they do both, I’m not sure. 
This is what it looks like when its open

The first building that we came to was a preparation hall for the king, queen and crown prince. There was special ceremonial dress to put on and they bathed to be clean and pure for the ceremony. After that, we went through a doorway that was much too short for Austin to the main buildings that house the spirit tablets. The doors were closed because it was not one of the two days a year when they are open. I was impressed by the immense raised space made out of stone in front of the building. Our tour guide asked us to take the stroller around on the grass because it was so huge and would be hard to cross. I’m guessing this is where the bulk of festivities take place on the memorial days.

Watch your head, neck, shoulders, and arms Austin!

Main spirit tablets hall- most of the kings and queens are in there. 

Austin in front of the main hall

The building was so long and skinny it was hard to get a shot of the whole thing!

Most of the kings that had achievements were housed in the main hall. There were some kings who did not have any achievements, or had not reigned long enough before not being king anymore to have anything to revere. These spirit tablets, as well as the spirit tablets for the 1st king of the Joseon dynasty’s ancestors, were housed in a separate, smaller hall. The last heir of the Joseon dynasty never made it to king status because of the Japanese invasion and Colonial period in 1910. The Crown Prince’s spirit tablet is also in this smaller building.

Smaller side shrine
There were a few quirky things about the shrine. It was set in a beautiful park-like setting with trees and bushes all around. There were walkways like there are at most sites, with the middle of the walkway raised. Usually, this signifies only the king should walk there and so it is ok to walk on it because there are no more kings. However, in the shrine, the middle walkway is reserved for spirits, and the penalty for walking on the middle road is that the spirits of the shrine will come give you nightmares!

Speaking of quirky, this kid peeled the silicone gaskets out of his goggles and wanted to wear them! A purist already, we better get him some Swedes!

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