The history of this virtuous city can be followed from the righteous army's movement at the end of the Joseon Dynasty to the Gwangju Student Independence Movement and the May 18 Democratization Uprising in 1980, solidifying its position as a city of democracy, human rights and peace. The May 18 Democratization Uprising, in resistance against the military regime's oppression, had a substantial influence on the democratization movement of many Asian countries that are aspiring to justice and freedom from autocratic rule. On May 25, 2011 the May 18 Archives were listed in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, and their value in world history was recognized.
Gwangju is "Home of the Arts". Famous artists from this city include: IM Bang-ul, master of Pansori and national singer; Uijae HUH Baek-ryun, master of oriental paintings; JUNG Yul-seong, a modern composer in China; and poet PARK Yong-chul . Inheriting this rich tradition and hosting world-class modern arts and design festivals like Gwangju Biennale and Gwangju Design Biennale, the city is now being reborn as the capital of Korean culture as well as the center of Asian culture. Asia Culture Center was established in November 2015, the longest national project (2003-2023) to promote Gwangju as the center of Asian culture is underway, and Gwangju Design Biennale was held in 2017. Also, the city hosted the 2015 Summer University Games in a low-cost, highly efficient manner while overcoming the MERS outbreak, successfully making the event a cultural festival for world youth. Based on this experience, Gwangju is now preparing for yet another international sports event: the 2019 World Aquatics Championships.
* Representative festivals: Fringe Festival, Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju Design Biennale, Gwangju Kimchi Festival, LIM Bang-wool Gukak Festival, JEONG Yul-seong International Music Festival
Gwangju’s tree-planting efforts saw an additional 10 million trees planted across the city. It was also the first place in Korea to operate a ‘Carbon Bank System’, which was later adopted by other local governments around the country. Gwangju proactively engages with climate change issues, through initiatives such as hosting the Urban Environment Accords (UEA) summit meeting in 2011. In 2012, Mudeung mountain, known as the ‘Mother Mountain’ of Gwangju, was officially designated as Korea’s 21st national park. Mudeung mountain was Korea’s second-most visited national park according to 2016 statistics. It was certified as a national geopark in 2014, and certified as a UNESCO World Geopark in April 2018, thus having its historical value globally recognized.
Gwangju is the second largest Korean city in terms of automotive production. KIA Motor Company Gwangju factory is pumping out 620,000 vehicles per year, and the project for developing an industrial cluster for eco-friendly automotive parts and a production car industry passed the central government's preliminary feasibility study in July 2016 and is now in full motion. The project involves a 303 billion won investment to develop an industrial cluster within Bitgreen National Industrial Complex to support development and production of key components and parts for eco-friendly automobiles. Gwangju is also moving forward to become a true leader of future eco-friendly automobile production through materializing "Gwangju-style jobs" by reaching agreements among the workers, employers, residents and the local government.
In December 2015, the location of Gwangju-Jeonnam Joint Innovation City, also known as Bitgaram Innovation City, the only one of its kind in Korea, was set at KEPCO (Korea Electric Power Corporation) while embodying the establishment of an "Energy Valley." Aiming to invest over 10 million U.S. dollars annually for R&D, attract 500 companies by 2020, and train 1,000 professional personnel, this project focuses on establishing a smart energy hub city, including Bitgaram Innovation City and Gwangju. Seven heads from KEPCO, Gwangju, Jeollanam-do, Korea Power Exchange, KEPCO KDN and KEPCO KPS have guaranteed a joint collaboration in the establishment of an energy valley and devoted themselves to the implementation of this project. An industrial complex is being established exclusively for energy industries and Korea's prominent new energy industry-related companies including LSIS and Hyosung, along with research institutes. With the construction of Gwangju's urban cutting-edge national industrial complex beginning in December 2016, the second phase of the project, including local industrial complexes, is in the process of removing the green belt, while furthering the construction of a new energy hub city.
Gwangju is called the "City of Light." The name of Gwangju was used for the first time in the 23rd year
(940) of the reign of King Taejo in the Goryeo Dynasty. Although the reason why the city was named this way is unknown, it is said to originate from one of the great scholars of the Goryeo Dynasty, Yi Saek, who, according to an interpretation in his book "Seokseojueonggi," named the area "Gwangjiju" or the "Village of Light."
This light refers to a bright glimmer. The idea of light is surrounded with Korea's traditional faiths, original spirits and basic philosophy.
Gwangju is the city of the sun and light. As the City of Light, its citizens look to the sun and live towards the light.
This spirit has been the driving force by which Gwangju citizens have overcome difficult times and have become a leading power in history. It has been inherited as a symbol of our spirits across society.
Gwangju City is located in central Honam, which is in the southwest area of the Korean Peninsula- the center of Northeast Asia. It borders Damyang County on the northeast, Jangseong County on the north, Hampyeong County on the west, Naju City on to the south and Hwasun County on the southeast. Gwangju is the largest metropolitan city that represents the southwestern region. Gwangju extends from Nam-gu Seungchon-dong (35˚03´13˝ north latitude) in the south to Sanpo-myeon, Youngsan River to Buk-gu Yongkang-dong (35˚15´22˝ north latitude) in the north. On the east side of Biseonggul, Buk-gu Chunghyo-dong forms the eastern boundary (127˚00´34˝ east longitude) of the city. The city extends 34.3 km from east to west and 23.1 km from north to south. Cities located on similar latitude lines are Busan and Jinhae in Korea, Tokyo in Japan, Jungsen in China, Algiers in Algeria and Oklahoma City in the U.S. Seoul is located on a similar longitude. Geographically, Gwangju is situated in the north of Jeollanam-do, centered in Honam province, serving as a hub of economy, administration, education and culture, including some parts of Jeonbuk. Surrounding Gwangju, there has been development toward Mokpo going through agricultural areas and towards Wando in terms of the bounty of agricultural products, towards Yeosu extending to Gwangyang international container ports and towards Namwon connecting Yeongnam. Likewise, Gwangju is located in the center of the six directions of the Honam region, providing opportunity for geographical development into the hub of Honam province. The city is located in the median latitude maritime temperate climate zone. Its climate is somewhere in-between a west coast and continental climate but is more similar to the west coast climate, which means that the city is warm and has sufficient rainfall. Winter is cold and dry, while summer is hot and humid. It has four distinct seasons. Recently, due to climate change, spring and fall have been shorter, presenting characteristics of a semi-tropical climate. In terms of accessibility, Gwangju is within a day's reach of major cities like Seoul, Incheon, Busan, etc., thanks to an excellent transportation network combining air, railway and express bus lines. The distance to Seoul is 270 km, to Busan 211 km, to Daegu 189 km, and to Jeju 187 km. Gwangju can be reached from all the major cities of Korea within 2-4 hours by air, rail, and expressways. Historically, Gwangju has been known for its spiritual and cultural heritage, as the "Home of the Righteousness", "Home of the Arts", and "Home of the Tastes". From the Righteous Army Movement in the late Chosun Dynasty and the Student's Independence Movement against Japanese colonial rule, to the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Movement, Gwangju inherits the tradition of democracy, human rights and peace. Also, Gwangju is "Home of the Arts" with many famous artists. The city is now looking forward to becoming the center of Asian culture with world class cultural festivals like Gwangju Biennale and the Design Biennale. Together with this, Gwangju is moving toward becoming a 21st century state-of-the-art industrial zone of Northeast Asia by actively promoting next generation strategic industries like eco-friendly automobiles, new energy, and cultural contents.