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  • Scarlett Lee

The Dynamic cityscape of Busan and its history

When I arrived in Busan, I was very much impressed by the interesting geographical feature of the city that has high mountains and bays. Most of buildings were built following the mountain ridges, and they were connected with wavy streets and steep stairs.


Busan building, Busan's geographical feature, Busan's topography, Busan travel, 부산 건물, 부산 지형, 부산여행
The impression of a single building is changing is based on where you are looking at it. Due to the hilly terrains of Busan, buildings can be appreciated from different angles and perspectives of street.

Busan building, Busan's geographical feature, Busan's topography, Busan travel, 부산 건물, 부산 지형, 부산여행
The impression of a single building is changing is based on where you are looking at it. Due to the hilly terrains of Busan, buildings can be appreciated from different angles and perspectives of street.

Busan's stairs, 40-step stairway, 40계단, 부산의 역사
Busan has a lot of steep stairs connecting different level of streets.

The way the buildings situated on hilly terrains really fascinated me. I was able to see one single building from all different level of streets and angle and the impression of the building was different based on where I was looking at it. According to the location of my perspective, a collection of buildings looked like a 2-dimensional painting of collage or a 5-tiered cake.


Gamcheon Culture Village, Palette colour, Busan building, Busan's geographical feature, Busan's topography, Busan travel, 부산 건물, 부산 지형, 부산여행, 감천문화마을
According to the location of a perspective, a collection of buildings looked like a 2-dimensional painting of collage or a 5-tiered cake.

Gamcheon Culture Village, Palette colour, Busan building, Busan's geographical feature, Busan's topography, Busan travel, 부산 건물, 부산 지형, 부산여행, 감천문화마을
According to the location of a perspective, a collection of buildings looked like a 2-dimensional painting of collage or a 5-tiered cake.

Amidong Tombstone Culture Village, Busan building, Busan's geographical feature, Busan's topography, Busan travel, 부산 건물, 부산 지형, 부산여행, 아미동 비석문화 마을
Busan's residential buildings were built on mountains.

There is a historical background that explains why a lot of residential buildings were built on mountains. Busan is a port city in Korea which is the closest to Japan. Therefore, it was historically not only a place where frequent trades with Japan were happening but also it was a place experiencing a lot of troubles and problems caused by Japanese. Since The Japan–Korea Treaty of 1876 which is an unfair treaty forcing Korea to accept Japan’s encroachment in Korea’s territory, Japan invaded Joseon (the last dynasty before Korea) and constructed a large number of buildings for Japanese along Busan’s bays. Because all the flat lands of Busan were occupied with Japanese buildings, Joseon people had no choice but to build their houses in hilly terrains. This is when the Flower Village (꽃마을) was formed in Gudeog mountain. Japan recruited about 1300 Joseon people for creating a tunnel in the mountain Gudeog that served to transport Japanese military supplies from the Southern port of Busan to Gupo area in Busan. The recruited Joseon people started dwelling in the mountain Gudeog by building huts since then, and earned their living by selling flowers they found from the mountain. This is how the village name was created.


After the Korean war broke out in June 25 in 1950, just in a few months, North Korean forces occupied nearly all of South Korea territory except Busan and the area nearby. Therefore, a large number of Korean populations – both South Korean and North Korean refugees moved to Busan escaping from the armed forces of North Korea, and these led Busan to have approximately 300,000 refugees. In February 1952, the population of Busan was up to about 880,000 including original Busan local people 470,000, which means that Busan’s population increased nearly twice since the outbreak of the Korean Warn. As Busan’s a few flat areas were already fully occupied, refugees had no choice but to build their temporary shelters on mountains. When mountains were even fully occupied, some refugees built their temporary houses near shorelines or rivers. Amidong villages were even built on a Japanese cemetery that was abandoned since Korea became independent from Japan in 1945. During the Korean war, all the resources were scarce, therefore, refugees used the gravestones as building materials, and built their houses on the top of graves’ foundations.


History of Amidong, History of Busan, Amidong Tombstone Culture Village, History of Korean refugees during the Korean war, 아미동 비석문화 마을의 역사, 한국전쟁 피난민의 역사
Amidong area used to be a Japanese cemetery (ref: Bukyung Modern Historical Materials Research Institute)

History of Amidong, History of Busan, Amidong Tombstone Culture Village, History of Korean refugees during the Korean war, 아미동 비석문화 마을의 역사, 한국전쟁 피난민의 역사
The gravestones of the cemetery are used as the foundation of the buildings in Amidong Tombstone Culture Village

History of Amidong, History of Busan, Amidong Tombstone Culture Village, History of Korean refugees during the Korean war, 아미동 비석문화 마을의 역사, 한국전쟁 피난민의 역사
The trace of the foundation of the cemetery is still remained.

History of Amidong, History of Busan, Amidong Tombstone Culture Village, History of Korean refugees during the Korean war, 아미동 비석문화 마을의 역사, 한국전쟁 피난민의 역사
The gravestone is embedded in the foundation of a building in Amidong Tombstone Culture Village

History of Amidong, History of Busan, Amidong Tombstone Culture Village, History of Korean refugees during the Korean war, 아미동 비석문화 마을의 역사, 한국전쟁 피난민의 역사, 부산의 역사
The diagram explains how abandoned graves were transformed to houses during the Korean war. Photo taken at the Museum of Korean refugees' lives in Amidong Tombstone Culture Village

Since a great number of settlements were created in Busan without any plan due to the sudden inflow of refugees, great fire occurred very frequently because houses were built too closely, and the primitive houses were mainly made of timber. It would have been also very difficult to extinguish the fire due to a narrow street and scarcity of water and resources.


History of Busan, Busan building, History of Korean refugees during the Korean war, 한국전쟁 피난민의 역사, 부산의 역사
Busan's buildings on mountains were built very closely so great fire occurred frequently in the past when the primitive buildings were mainly made of timber


When I looked at Busan’s villages on the mountain at distance, it looked really beautiful but, in the meantime, I got a mixed feeling. I felt sympathetic about the miserable living condition of Korean refugees, and I was also amazed and impressed by how strong spirit they had to survive during the Korean war and even after. Also, I was very much proud of Korean people who have been resilient to such a great hardship and pain, and eventually accomplished a fast development of economy. Thanks to my previous generation’s sacrifice and devotion, the current generations are living such a comfortable life in South Korea established as a developed country. I have also realised that Busan has played a pivotal role in establishing South Korea, and it is impossible to understand Korean history without Busan.


Although a number of residential buildings in Busan were built on mountains because of painful history, the current living condition of the local people in the buildings have been improved a lot through a great effort and support of Busan city and the community, and it is now perceived as a Top tourist attraction drawing a lot of tourists to Busan.


부산여행, 40계단문화관, 피난민의 삶, Busan, Busan travel, 40계단 문화센터, Korean history, Busan history
Mr. Jeong I met at the 40-step Culture centre shared the detailed story of the lives of Korean refugees during the Korean war.

감천문화 마을, Gamcheon Culture Village
The pastel coloured houses in Gamcheon Culture Village

While travelling Busan, I was very much jealous of Busan people who can enjoy the panoramic view of the cityscape every day. Since most houses and buildings were on mountains, if I climbed up just a little bit, a panoramic view of the city is fully unfolded. The impression of the city is also very different at night. As the city is dressed in lights, the city view is unbelievably stunning even at night. I really love Busan city that is rich in history and has a fantastic cityscape and warm-hearted people.


Busan city view, Youngdo, 부산 전경, 영도
The view looking towards Youngdo in daytime

Busan city view, Busan night view, Youngdo, 부산 야경, 영도
The view looking towards Yeongdo at night

Busan's night view, panoramic view of Busan, Busan travel, 부산의 야경, 부산의 전경, 부산 여행
The view looking at Busan port from Yeongdo

Busan's night view, panoramic view of Busan, Busan travel, 부산의 야경, 부산의 전경, 부산 여행
The panoramic view looking at Busan port from Yeongdo. Click the image to see the detail.

While I am in Korea, I am going to share beautiful sceneries of Korea. Follow my Instagram or Facebook Page to keep updated.



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