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The Moon Villages of South Korea

After the Korean War ended in 1953, many war refugees and other impoverished people moved to the rapidly developing urban centers and began squatting, often on hillsides. These downtrodden, gritty neighbourhoods came to be known as “moon villages” or daldongnae in Korean, signifying its high elevation and therefore closer proximity to and a better view of the moon. These villages are characterized by the utter lack of planning, with steep hills, winding alleys and small pockets of communal spaces. But from the 1980s onwards, moon villages have undergone rapid redevelopment. Old houses were torn down and replaced with high rise apartments that meet local urban laws. Moon villages have also became the target of street artists and muralists, whose beautiful colourful murals now decorate fences, walls and houses turning these once poverty-stricken areas into vibrant tourist centers.

Gamcheon Culture Village

One of the most famous daldongnae is Gamcheon Culture Village, located on the outskirts of Busan. The houses here are brightly painted in different colors.  Image credit: ST_Travel/Shutterstock.com

Gamcheon Culture Village

Image credit: cozyta/Shutterstock.com

Gamcheon Culture Village

Image credit: Andrey Grushnikov/Flickr

Gamcheon Culture Village

Image credit: cezzie901/Flickr

The Ihwa Mural Village near Naksan Park in Seoul was transformed with paintings and installation art in 2006 by about 70 artists. Today, it is a popular destination for both locals and international tourists for its murals and scenic setting. A similar project in Seoul is Gaemi Maeul ('Village of the Ants') in Seoul's northern Inwangsan district. In Suwon, 35 km south of Seoul, there are two more villages—Haenggungdong Mural Village and Jidong Mural Village.

Ihwa Mural Village

Murals at Ihwa Mural Village, Seoul. Image credit: Soile Vauhkonen/Flickr

Ihwa Mural Village

Murals at Ihwa Mural Village, Seoul. Image credit: Wei-Te Wong/Flickr

Ihwa Mural Village

Murals at Ihwa Mural Village, Seoul. Image credit: Wei-Te Wong/Flickr

Ihwa Mural Village

Murals at Ihwa Mural Village, Seoul. Image credit: mmmmngai@rogers.com/Flickr

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