South Korea // Jeolla //

Gwangju and around

The gleaming, busy face of “new Jeolla”, GWANGJU (광주) is the region’s most populous city by far. Once a centre of political activism, and arguably remaining so today, it’s still associated, for most Koreans, with the brutal massacre that took place here in 1980. The event devastated the city but highlighted the faults of the then-government, thereby ushering in a more democratic era. Other than a cemetery for those who perished in the struggle, on the city outskirts, there’s little of note to see in Gwangju itself, except perhaps the shop-and-dine area in its centre. Largely pedestrianized, this is one of the busiest and best such zones in the country – not only the best place in which to sample Jeollanese cuisine but also a great spot to observe why Gwangjuites are deemed to be among the most fashionable folk on the peninsula. Also in this area is “Art Street”, a warren of studios and the figurehead of Gwangju’s dynamic art scene. Although most funding is now thrown at contemporary projects, the city’s rich artistic legacy stems in part from the work of Uijae, one of the country’s most famed twentieth-century painters and a worthy poet to boot. A museum dedicated to the great man sits on his former patch – a building and tea plantation on the slopes of Mudeungsan Park, which forms a natural eastern border to the city.