GWANGJU, South Korea -- An ancient city in southwestern South Korea that was home to pro-democracy protests in 1980, Gwangju is now home to a picturesque residential area called Cheongchun Balsan Village, whose objets d'art and pastel-colored houses are making a splash on photo-sharing sites.
Cheongchun Balsan Village is about a 10-minute drive from downtown Gwangju. Colorful murals and molded sculptures are scattered around the neighborhood, creating the impression of a giant, open-air art gallery.
More than 1,000 photographs of the town have been posted on the Instagram. Its old buildings are a strong draw for shutterbugs.
The area got its start in the 1970s, when workers at nearby textile mills began moving in to take advantage of its low-cost housing. But changes to the industry have thrown many people out of work.
Cheongchun Balsan Village sits on a slope and has a difficult layout. To breathe new life into the area, a national project began around 2012 that featured houses splashed with murals painted by local artists.
"The art is beautiful and cool. I will post these on Instagram," said one Chinese tourist as she happily snapped photos,
Unlike better-known tourist destinations, Cheongchun Balsan Village is a hidden gem with relatively few visitors -- at least for the moment. That may be another reason why the town attracts so many young people.
The local government began buying vacant houses and renting them out cheaply in 2015 as an urban renaissance project. A recent visit to Cafe Da Ea, which opened two years ago in one of the vacant homes, revealed a space repainted white and accented with stylish lighting.
"It was easy to open [the cafe] because the rent was low, about $94 per month, and also because there was no deposit," said the 28-year-old male owner. The cafe, furnished with a piano and a bed, is also being used as a location for a TV drama, the owner said.
After sunset, young women strolled around the town, which was lit with bare bulbs. "This is a quiet and relaxing place," said one.
In late July, young people in Cheongchun Balsan Village were preparing to set up an information center and planning a party for tourists and local residents. In the future, visitors may be drawn to this picturesque corner of South Korea by events as well as art.