Seung Hyo-sang, the first appointed City Architect of Seoul, considers Jongmyo Shrine as an emblem of Korean architecture for its philosophical and spiritual foundation: “It expresses the Korean view of death, that the souls of the dead do not disappear but interact continually with the land of the living. Perhaps, that's the reason why the austere 117 meter-long rectangular building has the power to plunge us living souls into a long and reverent silence. It is both an immortal work of architecture—in which form and content are fused as one—and an eternal hometown that gratifies the instinctive desire to return from whence we came. Naturally, Jongmyo also depicts the architectural aesthetic of emptiness, for its core is a spacious yard.”
Jongmyo is a royal Confucian shrine dedicated to the forefathers of Joseon Dynasty. Originally constructed during the 14th century, the shrine was rebuilt and expanded in the 17th century after its destruction in the 16th century during the Japanese invasion. Reflecting the traditional feng shui principles, the site includes a depressed yard located at front of the main hall serving as a designated area where living and the dead spiritually coexist. To this day, the biggest ritual of the 18th-century Korea continues at this sacred shrine. The descendants of the House of Yi, which was the last clan to rule during the Joseon Dynasty, continue to follow the traditions of their imperial ancestors. As such, they take it as their duty to perform two important rites: Jongmyo Jerye (Royal Ancestral Memorial Rite) and Sajik Daeje (Great Rite for the Gods of Earth and Agriculture), both of which are considered important cultural properties of Korea now. Six hundred or so clan members dressed in black, white, red, blue and yellow hanboks, all with beautifully decorated headpieces, make their incense and harvest offerings along to royally orchestrated music. Held just once a year, Sajik Daeje commences with a 40-minute ceremonial walk from Deoksugung Palace, crossing Sejongno and Gwanghwamun and finally arriving at Sajikdan Altar. This Joseon renaissance is a once in a year opportunity to see something that is uniquely Korean.