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Busan - Gamcheon Culture Village

Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan

Gamcheon Culture Village, dubbed as the "Machu Picchu of Korea" is a must in Busan that consists of houses built in staircase-fashion on the foothills of a coastal mountain.

How to get there? From the Toseong-dong metro station take exit 8, cross the street and walk to the bus stop in front of the hospital. Catch minibus 2 or 2-2 (₩900, 10 minutes) up the hill.
The history behind these artsy streets, today filled with colourful murals, cozy cafés, cool stores and millions of selfie opportunities goes back to the Korea War. As explained in our post, Busan was the last stronghold of South Korea during the first phase of the war, implying that millions of refugees fled to Busan forcing the Government to hurriedly build houses piled on top of each other on the few available spaces, like this hillside.

With the rise of industrialization, Gamcheon reached almost 30,000 inhabitants, but afterward most of its population moved to other cities and the population fell to 8,000. The few left were aging rapidly, one quarter being over 65, Many of the colorful houses were abandoned. The area lacked basic infrastructure (running water, sewer system) and gave it a rundown look, in danger of disappearing over the time.

In 2010, the local Government in collaboration with urban planners, artists and the residents, had the idea of regenerating the area and attracting tourism, opting for a sustainable development that would respect its unique character and artistic value.

The government made a major effort to improve the infrastructures (retaining walls, running water and sewage system, street paving, parking areas, etc). Meanwhile, artists and residents focused on repairing the homes of the elderly with low incomes, renovating abandoned houses and turning into new things worth visiting like museums, art galleries where cultural and educational activities could be housed.

New village businesses were also stimulated (think of shops, cafés, restaurants, galleries, crafts workshops, hotels) simply because commercial activities create jobs and generate income for the residents, part of which goes back into the community in different ways: distribution of food, organization of festivals and events, reparation of houses, etc. The government also supported the enhancement of the residents’ capacity and self-management, by offering courses in several areas, like business management, sales techniques or crafts.

Volunteers were trained to give guided tours of the village and stimulate the curiosity and creativity of children in this unique area through the “Growing through Art” initiative.

The numerous color tones of the homes, the more than 40 works of art exhibited in the village, the craft shops, the art galleries and cafés, together with the programming of different cultural festivals and the participation of the residents in the revitalization, care and promotion of the village, gave it a unique appeal that resulted in 1.5M visitors in 2015.

Gamcheon is the blueprint on how citizen efforts and Governmental actions can be synergised to execute dramatic change, from a poor marginalized area into a cultural, dynamic village full of life.

While our pictures are not fair when it comes to the beauty of the actual colors - it was already dark when we made it there... I feel thankful about having a chance to wander through the streets without hordes of Chinese tourists armed with selfie sticks.

Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan
Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan
Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan
Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan
Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan
Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan
Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan
Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan
Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan
Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan
Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan

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