Founded in 1395 by the first king of the Joseon Dynasty, Gwanghwamun is the main gate of Gyeongbukgung Palace. Literally translated, its name means “may the light of enlightenment blanket the world”, and implies the resounding dedication the people of the Joseon Dynasty had in creating a new dynasty. Constructed solely out of granite, its center is an entrance that resembles a rainbow, called Hongyemun. Above that is a gate tower.
Gwanghwamun holds a painful memory in Korean history. During the Japanese occupation of Korea, the Japanese governing general, in order to kill the spirits of the Korean citizens, destroyed the gate and built his own government building. The present appearance of the gate is that of 1968 when it was rebuilt using concrete, and it’s about 10m behind the original spot. Though Gwanghwamun is the most beautiful of the five palace gates, it was not designated by the Korean government as a national treasure because it is made purely of concrete. The government is now in the process of destroying the Japanese building and restoring the palace.
Gwanghwamun has its name written on a sign on the gate, and it was personally written by then-president Park Jeong-Hui. On either side of the gate you can see “Haetae,” looking southward. Haetae is a mythical unicorn-lion that is said to protect palaces from fire. According to Pungsujirisang, there was fire element around Gwanaksan Mountain, so in order to protect the palace from fire from the mountain, these fire-eating Haetaes was put beside the gate.