There are several mural villages throughout Korea, little residential areas covered in art. The Ihwa Mural Village is located in Seoul in Ihwa-dong, Jongno-gu. It’s open all year round and is filled with little shops and restaurants.
A friend of mine had been wanting to check it out for awhile so we finally headed out one Saturday morning, getting off the number 4 line at Hyehwa (혜화) and walking past large tour groups, following the signs that lead to the mural village. It was a decent walk from the station and probably not the best day to do it. The yellow dust levels were extremely high and both of us were expecting it to be an easy journey, however the majority of the mural village is up stairs. Lots and lots of stairways. And neither of us with a mask.
Ihwa Mural Village has been shown in multiple dramas and movies which draws an additional crowd. Though while we visited there were a ton of people in old fashion school costumes because of a special event being hosted at a local cafe. We also saw people dressed up like the characters from Descendants of the Sun (태양의 후예). Many people were stopping for photos which made it difficult to maneuver for through the narrow streets and up the stairs of the village.
In 2006 about 68 different artists went to work making art throughout the village as a beautification project. Sculptures and paintings were done on the houses, alleys, and stairways. It’s considered one of the few remaining spots in Seoul where you can experience what it use to be like. Though with the crowds I’m not sure how much of that is true any longer. This plus the popularity it gained from being featured in multiple shows draws in large amounts of people which in turn disturbed the residents just trying to go about their daily lives. This has caused some of the art to not be replaced and many many signs to pop up asking for visitors to be quiet as it is a residential area. While some of the art is still around you can tell that it’s vastly faded. There are maps near the entrance that show what the larger murals are and where they are but some of them are gone or undergoing repair. Some of the murals, like a spot to pose with angel wings are extremely popular in Korea and can easily be found in other places around the country. But if you want to grab a bite to eat and look at cute little shops and wander around an old neighborhood with some splashes of art then it can be fun. But just going to specifically see the art didn’t quite live up to our expectations.
One thing I did notice that people were doing for fun were families playing rock, paper, scissors/ 가위 바위 보 and whoever won the round got to move up a step. This however was only being done on staircases without art, since the staircases with art had lines of people posing on the stairs for photos.