People know Nara (奈良) as a city full of tradition and ancient culture, on a similar level of Kyoto (京都). From 710-794 in the Nara Period, Nara served as the first proper capital of Japan (日本). As a capital, it needed to have a residence for the emperor and his family. Thus, they built Heijo Palace.
During this time, the city’s name was Heijo-kyo, hence “Heijo Palace”. In size and dimensions, the former imperial palace was very impressive, with its premises spanning a kilometer in every direction. Heijo Palace grounds housed many different buildings besides the palace itself, namely lecture halls, temples and tea houses.
Because of its cultural and historical value, it is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Nara.
Heijo Palace Grounds
Unfortunately, as Nara didn’t last very long as a capital, the imperial family moved to the next capital and the city “abandoned” and did not take care of Heijo Palace for a long time. As a result, only few of its original buildings remain today. Major reconstructions and developments have been underway since the 1950s, with the former audience hall being the biggest lasting building.
The audience hall used to be the place for the main important meetings the imperial family attended during the time. The design inside of it is beautiful which is why I definitely recommend entering the building.
Other than the hall you can see the intact Suzuka Gate at the southern end of the premises, along with an area called Suzuka Hiroba. Here, you can find a museum featuring old relics and artifacts from back in the day, a restaurant and a café and even a virtual reality theater. For further information on the premises and their history, there is a tourist information center as well.
Wars and fires destroyed many of Heijo Palace’s original buildings, but you can still witness some of the buildings’ foundations around the palace grounds. Using your imagination, you can get a feeling of how the premises used to look like in their prime.
A second gate, the Minamimon south of the Audience hall, is still under construction today which will likely finish in spring 2022. Towards the east there is a small palace garden with a pond where the imperial family used to hold banquets.
Lastly, you can visit an Exhibition hall for the former excavation site towards the northeast of the palace grounds.
Opening Hours & Admission Fees
Museums & reconstructed buildings:
- Open from 9:00 – 16:30 (last entry at 16:00)
- Closed every Monday (or the day after if Monday is a holiday) and from December 29th to January 3rd
- You can enter everything free of charge
Guidance/Tourist information center:
- Open from 10:00 – 18:00 (until 18:30 from June to September)
- Closed on the second Monday of February, April, July and November (or the day after if Monday is a holiday), December 29 to January 1st.
- Entrance is free of charge
How to get to Heijo Palace
Alternatively, you can take the Kintetsu Line from Kintetsu Nara Station and head towards Yamato-Saidaiji Station, which is the closest one to the palace. From there, it’s a short 15-minute walk to the premises.
Yet another option would be to take a bus from either one of the two main stations which are also bound for Yamato-Saidaiji Station. Depending on where you want to enter the palace grounds, you can get off at Heijokyuseki (平城宮跡, 240 Yen (1,98€/$2.24; exchange rate as of July 2019)) for the Excavation Site Exhibition Hall, Sakicho (佐紀町, 280 Yen (2,31€/$2.62)) for the Audience hall and Nijocho (二条町, 240 Yen) for the Nara Palace Site museum.
Heijo palace is not so much a proper palace anymore but it is still worth visiting for its many reconstructed halls as well as museums and gardens. These palace grounds originated over 1,000 years ago, having celebrated its 1,300th anniversary in 2010. Even without all the buildings still standing, it’s an impressive site to witness.
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Heijo palace is perfect for people looking to explore the ancient architecture and find out why it is a Heritage Site in the first place.
That’s it for Heijo palace, I hope you enjoyed it!
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See you there!