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[Photo Documentary] A Colorful Lego Village Beyond Your Window
By Busan | Kim Chang-gil
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Like terraced rice fields, small houses are lined in tiers along hillside roads giving off colorful hues. To a foreign eye, the view is retro and exotic.

This place is called Korea's Santorini (a white island village in the southern Aegean Sea, Greece), Busan's Machu Picchu (a village in the plateaus in southern Peru), and a Lego village, as if it were built with colorful Lego blocks. This is Gamcheon Cultural Village in Saha-gu, Busan.

The poor hillside village in Gamcheon-dong, located between Cheonmasan Mountain and Ongnyeobong Peak was originally named Taegeukdo Village. During the Korean War, followers of Taegeukdo, a religion of the Korean people, settled in this area, forming a Taegeukdo religious settlement.

The refugees built shacks at the foot of the mountain according to two principles. One, that they should not block the prospect of the house behind them, and the other, that they should let all the roads in the village connect. Shacks, no bigger than 16.5㎡, gathered here and there to cover Cheonmasan.

The shacks changed their facade to slates and cement during the Saemaeul Movement in the 1970s. However, they only changed their clothes, and maintained the basic structure of the terraced shacks.

No one knows why they painted the grey concrete houses. No one told them to, but one by one, the villagers painted their houses. Since they painted their houses to their taste, the village became a banquet of pastel colors.

Recently, the Gamcheon-dong village transformed to a cultural art village. In 2010, with the support of a private art group, the villagers started creating colorful spaces. The residents made installation art works themselves.

The neighborhood children painted murals and the elderly placed flower pots here and there along the alleys. Empty houses were transformed into artistic spaces with a theme such as galleries and book cafes.

As word on the cultural value of the Gamcheon Cultural Village spread, a stream of foreign tourists headed towards the village. Residents who once were hostile to outsiders crisscrossing through every inch of the village pressing their camera shutters now feel a sense of pride as they witness foreign tourists visiting their neighborhood.

Sure enough, currently a UNESCO International Work Camp (July 23 ~ August 6) with foreign participants is being held at Gamcheon Cultural Village. This is groundwork for the inscription of the hillside alleys of Gamcheon Cultural Village as a UNESCO World Heritage.

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