Jongmyo is a Confucian shrine dedicated to the perpetuation of memorial services for the deceased kings and queens of the Korean Joseon Dynasty (1392–1897). According to UNESCO, the shrine is the oldest royal Confucian shrine preserved and the ritual ceremonies continue a tradition established in the 14th century. Such shrines existed during the Three Kingdoms of Korea period (57-668), but these have not survived. The Jongmyo Shrine was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1995.
Jongmyo is adjacent to Changdeokgung and Changgyeonggung in the south. They used to be connected in the Joseon period, but were separated by a road built by Japanese colonialists. Nowadays there is a construction plan to recover the original structure of the shrine.
The main buildings of Jongmyo was constructed in October, 1394 when Taejo, first king of Joseon Dynasty, moved the capital to Seoul. It was destroyed by fire in the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592–98), then rebuilt in 1608.
When it was built in 1394 by order of King Taejo, the Jongmyo Shrine was thought to be one of the longest buildings in Asia, if not the longest. The main hall, known as Jeongjeon, had seven rooms. Each room was reserved for a king and his queen. The complex was expanded by King Sejong (r. 1418–50) who ordered the construction of Yeongnyeongjeon. This practice of expansion continued, with the growth of the complex moving from west to east, because of the need to house more memorial tablets during the reigns of later kings until there were a total of 19 rooms. However, during the Seven-Year War (1592–98), Japanese invaders burned down the original shrine and a new complex was constructed in 1601 and has survived to this day. The original tablets were saved in the invasion by hiding them in the house of a commoner and also survive. A king's tablets were enshrined three years after his death. There are 19 memorial tablets of kings and 30 of their queens, placed in the 19 chambers. Each room is very simple and plain in design. Only two kings' memorial tablets are not enshrined here. In addition to the tablet, there is a panel listing each king's accomplishments.
The current Jeongjeon is National treasure of Korea No. 227 and is the longest building in Korea of traditional design.