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Monday, November 29, 2010

Jongmyo Shrine - a magnificent monument to memorialize Koreas deceased kings

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Built in the 16th century, Jongmyo Shrine is a wonderful example of Confucian architecture. Both grand and minimalist, it exudes the dignity and majesty of Koreas deceased kings that it venerates.

Jongmyo is the oldest Confucian royal shrine in Korea and is magnificently preserved to this day. Dedicated to the forefathers of the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910), the shrine was built in the 16th century and houses tablets bearing the teachings of members of the former royal family. Ritual ceremonies linking music, song and dance still take place there, perpetuating a tradition that goes back some 500 years.

In Korean culture (and in many cultures throughout Asia), traditional rites are deemed highly important in modern society to preserve and maintain basic social order. There are a number of important rituals in Korea, the most significant of these being the Jongmyo and the Sajik rituals.

Jongmyo is the term used for a place where memorial services are performed for deceased kings, while Sajik is the term for a place where services for the gods of earth and crops are performed. These symbolic rituals ensure social order and the successful ruling of the nation.

Consequently, due to the significance of these rituals, the Jongmyo and Sajik shrines where these rituals are performed are classic in their architectural grace, detail and beauty. Although such facilities existed in Korea as early as the Three Kingdoms Period (57 B.C.-668 A.D.), those that remain today in Seoul are from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).

Jeongjeon, the main hall, is comprised of 19 identical rooms that are all minimalist in design with no ornamentation. However, the building as a whole is impressive in its grandeur, with 20 thick round pillars boldly projecting the dignity and majesty of royalty. In front of Jeongjeon is a remarkable elevated stone yard called Woldae, which is used during ceremonies by musicians, dancers and other participants. Woldae wonderfully complements the architecture of the main hall, with the large stone blocks comprising the yard creating a striking and solemn atmosphere as they lay in silence before Jeongjeon.

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