Heijo Palace

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in Nara
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Suzaku Gate
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During most of the Nara Period (710-794), Nara served as the capital of Japan and was known as Heijo-kyo. The Heijo Palace extended about one kilometer wide and one kilometer long and served as the site of the emperor's residence and government offices. For its great historical and cultural importance, the palace site is included as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Nara.

Although the palace once stood as the majestic center of the ancient capital, all of its original buildings were eventually lost, with the exception of a single hall that was moved in the 8th century and now stands at Toshodaiji Temple. When the capital was moved away from Heijo-kyo in 784, Heijo Palace and a large part of the city were abandoned as people flocked to the new capital. The temples on the outskirts of the former capital, however, retained their importance, and the city of Nara eventually resumed its growth around these temples, while the palace grounds were used for nothing but rice fields.

In more recent times, interest in rediscovering and celebrating Nara's past has revitalized the area. The lack of development on the grounds of the former Heijo Palace made it particularly easy for conducting archaeological research, which has been ongoing since the 1950s. Visitors to Heijo Palace nowadays will still find a rural atmosphere, but the government has gone to considerable lengths to showcase the history of Heijo Palace for visitors with historic reconstructions and museums.

Three major structures of the former palace complex have been reconstructed in recent decades. Foremost among them is the Former Audience Hall (Daigokuden), the largest building on the palace grounds, which was reconstructed for the occasion of the 1300th anniversary of Nara Capital and opened to the public in April 2010.

Former Audience Hall

The large audience hall was used as the site of important ceremonies and meetings. Its ceiling is decorated by the four animals of the direction on the compass and the twelve animals of the lunar calendar. A throne stands in the center of the hall. The building is called the "former" audience hall, because it was replaced by the "latter" audience hall in the second half of the Nara Period. The latter audience hall's foundations are visible to the east of the former audience hall.

Two more full-scale reconstructions from the 1990s are the Suzaku Gate (Suzakumon), the main gate of the palace to the south, and the East Palace Garden (Toin Teien), which features a pond, streams and bridges, and was used by the imperial family for banquets. Also partially reconstructed were the offices of the Imperial Household Agency (Kunaicho).

East Palace Garden

Furthermore there are various building foundations scattered across the palace grounds, some of which are highlighted by bushes, poles or low walls to indicate the former locations of other palace structures, such as the imperial living quarters and administrative offices.

At the northeast corner of the palace grounds stands the Excavation Site Exhibition Hall, where exposed excavation sites are left open to be viewed by the public. At the western end of the grounds is the Nara Palace Site Museum, a moderately sized, very informative museum with artifacts, models, photographs and maps on display, including several wooden tablets that were widely used as an alternative to more expensive paper during the Nara Period.

Foundation of the Latter Audience Hall

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Get There and Around

Heijo Palace is located a 15 minute walk east from Yamato-Saidaiji Station, which can be easily reached from Kintetsu Nara Station by Kintetsu trains (5 minutes, 210 yen, frequent departures).

Alternatively, the palace grounds can be reached by buses bound for Yamato-Saidaiji Station from both JR Nara Station (about 20 minutes, about 260 yen, every 30 minutes) and Kintetsu Nara Station (about 15 minutes, about 260 yen, every 30 minutes). The Excavation Site Exhibition Hall is located near Heijokyuseki bus stop, the Imperial Audience Hall is located near Sakicho bus stop, and the Nara Palace Site Museum is located near Nijocho bus stop.

How to get to and around Nara

Hours and Fees

The reconstructions and museums of Heijo Palace

Hours

9:00 to 16:30 (entry until 16:00)

Closed

Mondays (or following day if Monday is a national holiday), December 29 to January 3

Fees

Free

English

Moderate

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Page last updated: February 15, 2017