Stepping into a small library in the palace

Everyone should visit Gyeongbokgung Palace at least once in his or her lifetime. It is located by Mt. Baeak (today’s Mt. Bugak) as the greatest royal palace of the Joseon dynasty, and its main gate, Gwanghwamun Gate, faces the center of Hanyang (Seoul) through the open streets of Yukjo (today’s Sejong-ro). It was burned down in 1592 due to Imjin Waeran (the Japanese invasion of Korea), but about 500 buildings were magnificently rebuilt in 1867 under the leadership of Heungseon Daewongun. Most of the buildings, however, were demolished during the Japanese imperial rule, and very few buildings, such as Geunjeongjeon Hall, remain today. The Japanese Government General of Korea was built to hide the palace itself from people’s view. Fortunately, the restoration project began in 1990, and the Japanese Government General of Korea was removed, and the original Gwanghwamun Gate was restored in 2010.

Jibokjae Hall is located in the deepest part of Gyeongbokgung Palace, near Sinmumun, the northern gate, inside Geoncheonggung Palace, which was not its original location. Jibok means “collecting jewels as precious as jade,” and King Gojong collected over 40,000 precious books, most of which were about the modern civilizations of the west. Jibokjae Hall’s books were related to the new philosophies of the west, reflecting King Gojong’s determination to attain enlightenment, to undertake deep contemplation on his times, and to develop intellectual and cultural passion. Jibokjae Hall depicts the style that was prominent during the Qing dynasty, with two side walls built with bricks. It looks like a single-story building from outside, but it is actually a two-story building. Parujeong is an octagonal pavilion with the glamorous Qing-style Nagyanggak on top of the columns. As the Qing dynasty was the only channel for the advanced civilizations until 1880, Joseon accepted the Qing style. On the other hand, Hyeopgildang Hall was a traditional Joseon-style building with ondol rooms for relaxation. The three buildings were connected through halls; they were unique yet exquisitely harmonized.
Jibokjae Hall has been opened, for the first time in 120 years. The structure is preserved as much as possible, but shelves, counters, and display racks have been added to create a small library for the public. In its collections are about 1,000 books related to the Joseon dynasty, 350 reproductions of royal resources, and 230 Korean literature books translated into English, Chinese, and Japanese for foreign visitors. There are shelves and desks around the exhibition space in the center. The windows of Jibokjae Hall are the Chinese-style circular and semi-circular windows, and you can look out to the beautiful walls of the palace and the finely grown pine trees through the windows. Just sitting down and looking out of the windows will revitalize your mind and will move you to meditate. You can understand why King Gojong liked this place so much. Parujeong has been opened as a book café selling coffee, green tea, bottled water, and other beverages along with books, while Hyeopgildang Hall has been turned into a reading room. Jibokjae Hall will open its doors and welcome us as a small library and a place for historical experience. The time that flows into the space of cultural heritage feels more fulfilling.