Dondeokjeon back to citizens for the first time in 100 years

The Korean Empire’s diplomatic stage, Deoksugung Dondeokjeon (惇 殿), returns to the arms of citizens for the first time in more than 100 years. It is used as an exhibition space related to modern and contemporary diplomacy and a complex cultural space. Dondeokjeon Hall will hold an opening ceremony on the 25th and officially open on the 26th.

Dondeokjeon Hall is a Western-style two-story building located north of Seokjojeon Hall in Deoksugung Palace, Seoul. It modeled after the architectural style popular in Paris, France in 1902. It was created as a venue to hold large-scale international events to commemorate the 40th anniversary of King Gojong’s accession. It was intended to show the world the aspect of a modern country on par with the Western powers and the will to protect its sovereignty.

The idea was thwarted by the Russo-Japanese War and cholera outbreaks. Dondeokjeon Hall was later used as a venue for meeting diplomatic envoys or accommodation for state-level foreigners. It was destroyed in the 1920s after Japan lost its diplomatic power due to Japan-Korea Treaty of 1905 in 1905. On the spot, a children’s amusement park and a temporary building for the management of Deoksugung Palace were built and demolished.

The newly opened Dondeokjeon reflected the historical nature of being a central space for diplomacy of the Korean Empire. It was created as a space for exhibitions on the diplomatic history of the Korean Empire, keeping records, reading books, cultural exchanges at home and abroad, and art events.

Since 2015, the Cultural Heritage Administration has promoted a restoration and maintenance project to restore Deoksugung Palace’s historicity and create it as a historical and cultural resource. Dondeokjeon Hall completed external construction last year, starting with the excavation process in 2017. Internal work, such as production and installation of exhibits, was completed on the 24th.

The Cultural Heritage Administration explained that it was reproduced as close as possible to its original appearance. Bricks and tiles excavated during the investigation were reproduced and used for the exterior of the building and the floor of the hallway. Inside, lighting with a 100-year-old atmosphere and French furniture and fixtures were placed. The underground facility, which is believed to have been used as a boiler room, was also restored.

The first floor consists of a video archive of the Korean Empire and a special exhibition room to hold international events. On the second floor, there is a permanent exhibition room where you can understand the flow of modern Korean diplomacy and an archive room with the motif of the Western “salon” in the early 20th century. The permanent exhibition consists of materials and media art related to the diplomatic history of the Korean Empire from the signing of the Treaty of Ganghwa Island in 1876 to the Hague Special Envoy in 1907.

In the permanent exhibition room on the second floor, the treasure “Jingwansa Taegeukgi” (1919) will be displayed. It is a work painted with Taegeuk and four trigrams in ink on top of the Japanese flag, showing its willingness to protect its sovereignty. The original will be displayed until the 26th and reproduced after consultation with Jingwansa Temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, which is the original collection.

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