Seoul’s Jongno district (종로구) has been the centre of the city since the Joseon Dynasty for over 600 years, hence it plays an important role in its culture & history. If you had followed through my earlier posts, you would have known that Jongno-gu is home to palaces in which the kings used to reside & work – Deoksugung, Gyeongbokgung etc, & even the Cheong Wa Dae (President’s residence) is also located here. Besides all these majestic palaces, there are also many historical & cultural neighbourhoods in this district, & I had already explored Buam-dong & Samcheong-dong earlier in the day.
After a pleasant tour in the traditional village of Samcheong-dong, I continued eastwards, passing by 2 other palaces – Changdeokgung & Changgyeonggung on my way to another old neighbourhood – Ihwa-dong (이화동, 梨花洞), located at Mt. Naksan’s (낙산) west foot. In Dec 2006, the “Naksan Public Art Project” (“낙산공공 미술 프로젝트”) was carried out in the neighbourhood to improve the deteriorating living conditions here. About 60 artists worked together to paint beautiful murals on the walls of the worn-out houses, as well as erected sculptures here. Soon, the murals became a symbol of the village, attracting throngs of visitors flocking up the mountain to enjoy the art.
Similar to Busan’s Gamcheon Cultural Village, Ihwa-dong started as a village on the mountain after the Korean War. There was a desperate need for postwar housing with the city’s rapidly increasing population then, so people built homes wherever they could. Ihwa-dong was home to many working-class workers in the nearby garment & textile industries in Changsin-dong & Dongdaemun area. However, this mural village in Seoul was developed 3 years earlier than Gamcheon in Busan.
So much for its background, I finally arrived at Daehangno (대학로), the youthful university street near Hyehwa Station exit 2 (Line 4, 혜화역) after walking for about half an hour from Bukchon Hanok Village. This station is the nearest station to Ihwa-dong Mural Village (이화동 벽화마을), about 5 min walk away. Walk straight ahead on Daehak-ro 8-gil (대학로8길) upon leaving exit 2.
Following the road sign that points to the direction of the mural vilage, I soon found myself on Naksan-gil (낙산길), a steep uphill slope with rustic houses lining both sides of the narrow street.
Soon, I arrived at Naksan Park (낙산공원), atop the 124.4m high granite mountain Naksan. Its name is derived from its camel hump-like appearance. As a result of hasty urban planning during the Japanese colonial period, most parts of the mountain were demolished. In an effort to save the remaining green belts, Naksan was designated as a park on June 10, 2002.
As it was almost 6pm when I reached Naksan Park, I could catch a glimpse of the lovely sunset along the Naksan trail. Not only that, there were also interesting sculptures installed along the path as you can see from the pic above. I also passed by the Dongsung Nursery School (동숭어린이집) & saw the cute animal mural below.
Now, I had officially stepped foot onto the Ihwa-dong Mural Village. Following the directional signs on the road, it was an idiot-proof tour in the neighbourhood, & I also followed other visitors to climb the huge & steep stairways to check out the various murals. Here are some of the lovely murals for your viewing pleasure. 🙂
It’s a love-hate feeling I had for the artistic Ihwa-dong Mural Village tour, because the murals & sculptures may be so attractive for photo-taking, but the terrain in this quaint neighbourhood is just like Busan Gamcheon Cultural Village. Both villages require visitors to exercise their leg power, with lots of narrow & steep stairways & slopes to climb! There were times I felt so stuck due to the horrifying terrain that I wanna cry. But I had to grit my teeth & move on, otherwise, I’d be stranded there & how to go home? 😦 The location & terrain of the village is definitely not helping my painful knees that had already brought me round Jongno-gu for the last 6 hours haha.
Therefore, if you wanna visit this charming village in central Seoul that has retained its rustic beauty with the infusion of modern mural art, don’t forget to conserve some energy for the hike! It’ll take you at least 1 hour or more to appreciate the whole place fully. Do spend some time in one of the pretty cafes after a tedious hike to chill & unwind in this unique place just minutes away from the buzz & hustle of the city. 🙂