A similar shrine was called Sijomyo in the Shilla era, and Taemyo in the Goryeo era. Founding the Joseon Dynasty, King Taejo moved the capital to Hanyag, or present Seoul, from Gaeseong, and after the location of his main palace was determined, the King built Jongmyo on the east of his palace and Sajikdan (Historical Site No. 121) on the west. Jongmyo is where to pay homage to the ancestors of the royal family, while Sajikdan is for the gods governing territorial security and bumper crops. Therefore, the two can be described as symbols of the roots and history of the nation. The system of Jongmyo was initiated during the era of Wu in ancient China, and the so-called seven-generation system (7-myo je) was in practice, to be revised to the nine-generation system during the era of Ming. In our country, Shilla adopted the five-generation system, and Goryeo and the early Joseon Dynasty the seven-generation system.
That means only the spirit tablets of seven immediately- previous kings and their queens were kept in Jeongjeon (main shrine) and the tablets older than them were moved to Yeongnyeongjeon (eternal peace shrine).
King Taejong started building Jeongjeon in December, 1394, the third year of his reign, and completed the project in September of the following year, with a five-chamber main shrine flanked by a two-room antechamber on each side. For some time after the building's completion, the spirit tablets of four immediately-past ancestors, Mokjo, Ikjo, Dojo and Hwanjo, were enshrined influenced by Chinese customs. In 1421, the third year of King Sejong's reign, however, space was needed for royal ancestral tablets after the death of King Jeongjong, and Yeongyeonjeon, a separate shrine, was built to accommodate the tablets of past four kings in accordace with a Chinese practice. The original building of Jeongjeon built by King Taejo in 1395 was destroyed by fire during the Japanese invasion in 1592, and the new shrine built in 1608 underwent several renovations and additions to the present structure which spread straight to the left and right with 19 chambers as it is now. Originally, only seven royal tablets were kept in Jeongjeon with the tablets of previous kings removed to Yeongnyeongjeon, but the number of
tablets in Jeongjeon increased as the court decided to keep those of distinguished kings in disregard of generation order. At present, 19 spiritual chambers are kept in Jeongjeon from King Taejo to King Sunjong. Yeongnyeonjeon now houses the tablets of 16 kings from Mokjo to Crown Prince Uimin. Besides, 83 tablets of meritorious subjects are also enshrined there. Jongmyo, designated as Historic Site No. 125, comprises Jeongjeon (National Treasure No. 227), Yeongnyeongjeon (Treasure No. 821), and various other historic sites and items. Accordingly, UNESCO in December, 1995 designated Jongmyo as World Cultural Heritage No. 738, in recognition of the need to preserve Jongmyo as having outstanding values for mankind.
At the same time, the national ancestral ritual, Jongmyo Jerye (Important Invisible Cultural Property No.56) and Jongmyo Jeryeak (Important Invisible Cultural Property No. 1) were selected as masterpieces of UNESCO's Intangible Heritage in May, 2001, providing an occasion to celebrate worldwide the excellency and creativity of our cultural assets.