Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Discover Korea #8: Namwon (THE EAST Campaign in Association with Korea Tourism Organization)

Namwon (Namwon-si) is a city in North Jeolla Province, South Korea. Namwon is about 45 minutes from the provincial capital of Jeonju, which is three hours away from Seoul. The official city flower is Royal Azalea (철쭉) while the city tree is the crape-myrtle (배롱나무) and the city bird is the swallow (제비). Namwon is the type of small city that allows for an escape from the bigger cities in Korea. It is often considered the gateway to Jirisan National Park, which have the largest mountains in the South Korean Mainland. It is 3 and a half hours from the Seoul Central City Bus Terminal and about one hour from both the U-Square Bus Terminal in Gwangju and the Jeonju Inter City Bus Terminal. It has enough modern motels, stores, bars, restaurants, and convenience stores (GS 25, Mini Stop, Family Mart, and a 7-11) to make it easily familiar to those accustomed to larger cities and enough “Ma and Pa” businesses to allow one to experience a more traditional side of Korea. It is a city with a country feel to it and history to explore. There are many old traditional homes with narrow streets and winding alleys to explore. It is called “the City of Love” because of the famous love story of Chunhyang (known all over Korea by most Korean people). Gwanghallu Garden is a shrine to this true love story. Below is a summary of some of the things the city has to offer.

Namwon was founded in 685 during the reign of King Sinmun of Silla. Namwon county was founded in April 1, 1895. The city suffered during the Siege of Namwon in 1597 which was part of the Imjin War. During the siege that lasted from August 13 to August 16 the only defenders against the Japanese army of 56,000 men were 3300 Korean and Chinese soldiers and 6000 women and children. In the end the Japanese found a way to enter the city and killed all the soldiers and civilians.

Namwon is located in a basin bordered by the Sobaek Mountains to the east and the Buheung Mountain Ridges to the west with the Yocheon River flowing through the city. Namwon is bordered by the counties of Imsil and Sunchang to the west, Jangsu to the north, Hamyang and Hadong in Gyeongsangnam-do to the east, and Gurye and Gokseong in Jeollanam-do to the south. The average yearly temperature of Namwon is 12.7℃ with the average temperature in January being 0.4 and 25.9℃ in July. Due to its location in a mountainous basin with a high rate of precipitation, the climate of Namwon varies greatly.

The annual four day Chunhyang festival commemorates a legendary love story and folktale, Chunhyangga. This festival is said to be the oldest in Korea. According to the legend, Chunhyang was a maiden who was taken advantage of by an immoral local governor who forced her to marry him while the young man she really loved was away on government affairs. When the young man returned he disguised himself as a common person and saw for himself the myriad of injustices that the local governor had perpetrated; using his authority to kill him things are set straight and the maiden is set free, giving the tale a happy ending. The main bridge that crosses the river that runs through the middle of the city is lit up, and along the river bank there are vendors selling food and items of all kinds. The Chunhyang beauty contest can be entered by the most beautiful female residents, in traditional dress. Another event is the Chunhyang parade which runs through cordoned sections of the city along the river bank, and which comprises just about the entire complement of the city’s mid-grade schoolgirls (numbering probably in the low hundreds) who are dressed in full chogori and carry musical instruments of some type, and who march in a very long line. There are also other parades of men and anyone else who is not a young girl may dress up in traditional dress and join the procession. The festival lasts four days and fireworks blaze the skies every night. For the rest of the year when the festival is not on, there is a small theme park dedicated to Chunhyang (Namwon Tourist Complex) complete with hypothetical dwellings and surroundings that someone like Chunhyang would have had (a mock house and yard). There are other sights in the park unrelated to Chunhyang such as a fish pond where visitors are free to feed the fish and some old-fashioned swings and horseshoe-style throwing games. Outside the park, along the river bank, there are also mini paddle boats that people can rent to traverse the small river.

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