(ATTN: UPDATES with opening performances; REPLACES photos)
SEOUL, May 10 (Yonhap) -- The Royal Culture Festival, the country's largest festival themed on the Korean royal court and its culture, returned Tuesday to an almost-normal state after two years of pandemic-caused disruptions.
This year's event kicked off its spring season with an in-person ceremony at 8 p.m. at the square in front of the Heungnyemun gate in Gyeongbok Palace, which served as the main palace of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), in central Seoul.
Founded in 2015, the event hosted by the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) and its affiliated Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation has been held twice every year -- in May and October -- at Seoul's five Joseon-era palaces -- Gyeongbok, Changdeok, Changgyeong, Deoksu and Gyeonghui -- as well as two other royal sites. The festival, however, was held virtually in the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The spring edition, set to last till May 22, features a total of 49 programs to be held in person and online.
During the festival period, the palaces will remain open without closing on Mondays as they usually do while admission to Gyeongbok Palace will be free of charge. Deoksu and Changgyeong palaces will remain open until 9 p.m. for nighttime tours.
In addition to the festival's usual venues, this year's editions will also take place in the compound of Cheong Wa Dae, which was formally the "back garden" of Gyeongbok Palace, for the first time in its history, as the compound was fully opened to the public with the start of the new government earlier in the day.
The opening ceremony was themed on Joseon-era rituals performed before the start of the new year to drive out evil spirits and festivities to deliver hope for overcoming the pandemic and returning to normal daily routines, according to the organizers.
There were performances of a traditional Korean dance and music show created through a contemporary reinterpretation of such rituals, a creative musical play and a multimedia show themed on the history of Gyeongbok Palace, during the ceremony.
The ceremony was also streamed live on a YouTube channel jointly run by the CHA and the heritage foundation.