The City of Light

Gwangju is the regional hub of Korea’s southwest region of Jeolla-do, a medium-sized city of about 1.5 million people defined by the tragic events of the Gwangju Uprising and famous for what is considered to be the best cuisine in all of Korea. Protests against Korea’s military dictatorship on May 18th, 1980 snowballed into a citywide uprising calling for democratic elections but was ultimately brutally crushed by the military, with hundreds of people killed and thousands more imprisoned and tortured. The uprising on May 18th, 1980 has since been designated an official day of remembrance, and Gwangju is now widely known as the “City of Democracy and Human Rights”. The film “A Taxi Driver” is centered around the events of the Gwangju Uprising, and broke multiple box office records in Korea when it was released in 2017.


Numerous memorials and museums pay homage to the Gwangju Uprising across the city, such as the May 18th National Cemetary in Mangwol-dong, 5.18 Liberty Park in Sangmu, and the May 18th National Archive in Geumnam-ro, the site of some of the uprising’s worst violence. The legacy of the Gwangju Uprising is still strong, and the vast majority of its inhabitants lean to the left politically. But while the city continues to enshrine and memorialize the tragic events of May 18th, it has also sought to assert itself as a city of the arts, with the construction of the Gwangju Biennale in 1995 and the Asia Culture Center in 2015. Both institutions regularly host exhibitions of famous Korean and international artists, as well as films and various performances. The Asia Culture Center has a massive arts library and Asian Art Archive that’s open to the public. Gwangju is also known as a baseball city, producing former major leaguers such as Kim Byung-Hyun and Kang Jung-Ho, and its Kia Tigers baseball team is a point of pride for the local citizens. Its home stadium, Kia Champions Field, is one of the top ballparks in the entire country.


Jeolla-do has long been known as the “breadbasket of Korea” due to its abundance of arable land, and Gwangju’s importance as Jeolla-do’s largest city has allowed it to develop what is arguably the nation’s best cuisine. Oritang, a duck stew cooked in a delicious, thick broth, Tteokgalbi, grilled patties of minced beef short ribs, Heukyeomsotang, a hearty goat stew, Sangchu twigim, various deep fried goodies wrapped in lettuce, Boribap, barley rice mixed with various vegetables and sauces, and Hongeo, fermented skate with a very strong smell and taste, define the delectable cuisine of Gwangju and its surrounding metropolitan area, with few restaurants serving this type of cuisine outside its city limits.


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