On June 25, 1950, the Korean War began with a surprise attack on neighboring South Korea at dawn. Unprepared to fight, South Korea lost its capital, Seoul, in three days after the war broke out. The South Korean government had no option but to retreat and declared Busan as the wartime capital on August 18, 1950. Although it has been almost 70 years since then, Busan still has traces of the war. Let us follow these historical traces filled with joys and sorrows.
Wartime Capital Trail
Tombstone Cultural Village - Cloud Observatory – Choi Min-Shik Gallery – Train House Artistic Cultural Experience Ground - Provisional Capital Memorial Hall – Seokdang Museum
In Ami-dong, Seo-gu, Busan, there is Tombstone Culture Village, where you can have a glimpse of the kind of life that refugees experienced. Away from the war, many Koreans fled to Busan without a plan and settled down at the foot of a mountain, with a cemetery built by Japanese during the Japanese occupation of Korea. At that time, it was difficult to build a house because there were hardly any materials. Nevertheless, as a way to stay out of the wind and rain, they built shelters on top of the tombstones in the cemetery. You can still find traces at the alleys in Tombstone Culture Village.
In a 3 min walking distance from Tombstone Culture Village, you can reach the “Cloud Observatory” with a panoramic view of mountainside road across Ami-dong. Refugees from the Korean War built their homes on hillsides, despite not owning any lands. As you observe the houses standing side by side along the alleys that are too narrow, even for one person to pass through, you will see and feel the broken and exhausted faces of the refugees.
In a town located right below the observatory, Choi Min-Shik Gallery, one of the must-visit places, vividly portrays the lives of the refugees. Choi Min-Shik is a first-generation Korean documentary photographer based in Busan, particularly known for taking photographs of people going about their daily lives. In this gallery, you can find various post-war Busan photos, including a woman selling goods at Jagalchi Market and a child with a bright smile on his sooty face. These old photos will let you see and reflect the hardship that the refugees underwent to survive, as they hold on to a dim light of hope, despite feeling exhausted and shattered by the event.
Located next to Choi Min-Shik Gallery, Train House Artistic Cultural Experience Ground is also a must-visit place. The words “Train House” came from several people who lived in a small room after dividing into many sections similar to train couches. This place signifies the poor conditions that the refugees from the Korean War had to endure to survive. Currently, it is used as an experience center and a resting area for local residents and tourists.
The Provisional Capital Memorial Hall is a 10 min walk along the ridge from Train House Artistic Cultural Experience Ground. It was formerly used as a presidential residence for about 1,000 days, while Busan was the wartime capital. Furthermore, it was where Rhee Syngman attended to the affairs of state. There is also an exhibition hall with an extensive collection of replicas that invites visitors, including children, to show the lives of the refugees during the Korean War.
As you walk from the Provisional Capital Memorial Hall to Dong-A University, you will find the Seokdang Museum. Originally used as the Temporary Capital Government Building for the wartime capital, it is now transformed into a museum that outlines Busan’s history. Widely known as Busan’s most famous modern building with red bricks and giwa roof tiles, it has great historical significance because it shows modern and contemporary Korean politics and society—from the Japanese occupation to the Korean War.
Enjoying Busan’s blue ocean and skyscraper is a great way to travel around Busan. Nevertheless, if you are interested in learning about Busan’s history, which is closely linked to the modern and contemporary history of Korea, then visit and walk along the Korean War Heritage Trail.
1Ami-dong Tombstone Culture Village, home to graveyards
The Ami-dong Tombstone Culture Village is across the road from Gamcheon Culture Village.
It is one of the mountainous villages that grew busy because of the increasing visitors during the mountainside road renaissance.
During the Korean War, refugees embarked on a journey with nothing but basic household items. The civic officers handed out a small note to refugees who congregated to Busan Station that contained the following short address.
“San 19-beonji, Ami-dong.” This was the beginning of the Ami-dong Tombstone Culture Village where they will make their home.
2Choi Min-shik Gallery, a comfort for humans
Located on the second floor of Ami Cultural Learning Center, the gallery exhibits the photographs of Choi Min-shik, a documentary photographer whose field of activities is located in Jagalchi Market from the 1960s to the 1970s.
3Meet the provisional capital, Busan
Meet the provisional capital, Busan.
Provisional Capital Memorial Hall, the trace of the Korean War.
Shortly after the breakout of the Korean War—the nation’s biggest tragedy—on June 25, 1950, the government organizations, including the president, moved to Busan, which became a provisional capital. The provincial office of Gyeongsangnam-do Province was used as the presidential residence, which has continued to remain as a monument that contains the history of Busan today.
4Seokdang Museum of Dong-A University embraces the historic values of Korea
Registered Cultural Heritage No. 41, Provisional Government Building in Busan, and one of three top university museums in Korea
Dong-A University Seokdang Museum is a building that has three names.
Dong-A University purchased a building that had been used as the Provisional Government Building and the Busan District Public Prosecutors’ Office before transforming it into today’s Seokdang Museum. In 2002, it was designated as Registered Cultural Heritage No. 41 in recognition of the historical value of modern cultural heritage.