Culture & History Seoul

Changing of Guards Ceremony

Have you noticed Gyeongbokgung Palace have several guards that keep the eye at the Gwanghwamun Gate? If you are on your plan to visit this historical palace, you should mind on visiting there during the Changing of the Guards ceremony. And I bet you will find it is exciting to wonder about the Palace Guards.

About Joseon Dynasty

During the Joseon Dynasty, the Palace Guards were responsible for guarding and patrolling the gates of the capital city and the royal palaces. They were called, “Wanggung Sumunjang” (왕궁수문장). And they had the very important duty of protecting the palace by guarding the entrance gates where the king resided. They were in charge of opening and closing the palace gates, inspecting all visitors, and maintaining a close surveillance of the palace. To be more specific, they were divided into day and night shifts, and the Changing of the Guard ceremony took place whenever the shift changed over.

Changing of the Royal Guard at Gyeongbokgung Palace

Looking back to the history during Joseon Dynasty, the Changing of the Guard ceremony was conducted at Gyeongbukgung Palace. At that time Gyeonbukgung was the first and primary royal palace and the king then resided there. However, in the late period of the dynasty, Gyeongbukgung was burned down during the Japanese Invasion of 1592 to 1598. Then Deoksugung became the primary royal palace and the Changing of the Guard ceremony took place at Deoksugung.

Changing of the Royal Guard at Gyeongbokgung Palace

The Court Ceremony Re-enacted

After some historical research, this exciting and elegant traditional Korean royal court cultural ceremony was first re-enacted in 1996. Ever since, it has been a must-see among Seoul’s tourist attractions. This ceremony is a great opportunity to experience a rare traditional scene in Korea. Because the ceremony restarted exactly as it used to, with guards wearing royal uniforms, carrying traditional weapons and playing traditional instruments.

This ceremony takes place twice a day in front of Gwanghamun Gate: the main gate of Gyeongbukgung at 10 AM and 2 PM except on Tuesdays as the palace is closed on that day.

Changing of the Royal Guard at Gyeongbokgung Palace

In addition, to give a little e bit of interest on how the ceremony being held. Here is the plan of actions roughly. It starts with the first drumbeat signal sounds, and then the relieving guard unit mobilizes towards Gwanghwamun Gate. Next, the second drumbeat signal sounds and the relieving guard unit moves outside of Gwanghwamun Gate. And the chief of the relieving guard unit and the chief of the guard unit on duty perform an identification check. Then, the chief of the relieving guard unit orders his unit to take their positions at the gate and the relieved guard unit mobilizes to the inside of the gate. Lastly, the third drumbeat signal sounds and the chief of the relieved guard unit orders his unit to exit the vicinity.

Furthermore, the Palace Guards too have their own roles and duties. To make it short, here are some of the lists about their positions and the duties.

Positions

Since it is hard to experience traditional events in such city like Seoul, the Change of Guards ceremony is a great opportunity that you are not going to miss.

Performance Times

Sumunjang (Royal Guard) Changing Ceremony
10:00, 14:00 / 20 minutes per ceremony
Gwanghwamun Gate Guard-on-Duty Performance
11:00, 13:00 / 10 minutes per ceremony
Sumungun (Gatekeeper) Military Training (outside Hyeopsaengmun Gate)
09:35, 13:35 / 15 minutes per ceremony

Additional Events

Sumungun (Gatekeeper) Costume Experience
(1) Venue: Sumunjangcheong Building
(2) Time: Before and after the Guard Changing Ceremony and the Guard-on-Duty Performance (closed on Tuesdays)
(3) Inquiries: +82-2-3210-1645~6

*Reservation required for the king or queen’s costume.

🇲🇾 Syed Ahmad Nabil

Syed Ahmad Nabil, an ungraduate student in Sungkyunkwan University. Came all the way from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and enjoys travelling and photography literally pretty much.