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Daegu Alleys emerge as new tourism destination

Daegu’s newest cultural attraction is giving long-overdue recognition to some of the most significant sites in Korea’s modern history while capturing the attention of visitors from around the world. Breathing new life into the city’s cultural properties, the Daegu Modern Culture Alley Tour has forged a link between past and present.

Daegu has played a fascinating role in Korea’s modern history; in the last 100 years, it has experienced life under Japanese colonialism, the effects of the war that tore the country in two and the influence of foreign cultures, including Christian missionaries. And while the Korean War damaged or destroyed many national treasures in Seoul, the fighting did not reach beyond the Nakdong River, leaving Daegu intact.

After suffering for decades under Japanese colonial rule and surviving a devastating war, Koreans wanted to move forward. During the later part of the twentieth century, Daegu, like the rest of Korea, experienced an incredible transformation. Yet amid Korea’s recovery and rapid economic development, many of the city’s cultural properties were neglected or altogether forgotten.

In recent years, there has been a collective effort to reclaim these places, and Daegu has embarked on a series of projects geared toward urban revitalization, including the restoration of key heritage sites. Kwon Sang-Gu, the community designer who spearheaded the Modern Culture Alley Tour project, wanted to create a narrative that would frame their stories.

When Kwon first started work on the tour, he said many of the locations were unmarked or abandoned. Restoring these places and making them accessible to the public has been a labor of love. Focusing on storytelling, he envisioned a tour that would allow people to rediscover their history.

“A city is not a tool for profit,” he said. “It’s for the people who live there. It tells their story.”

Daegu’s Modern Culture Alley Tour offers a series of sightseeing courses that make it possible for visitors to both explore the most vibrant parts of the city while discovering the people and places that shaped its history.

The tour takes visitors to one of the first centers of Christianity in the city. Dongsan Cheongna Hill is the scenic location of three Western-style houses that were used as missionary housing. The most interesting site to see on the hill is Switzer’s House. The Western-style house covered by Korean tile roof is an elegant blend of East and West.

Visitors can climb the March First Independence Movement Road, a flight of steps that memorializes Daegu’s struggle for independence under Japanese rule. It’s a place where students involved in the movement hid from the Japanese police. The tops of the steps provide a stunning view of downtown and Gyesan Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in the Gyeongsang-do region.

Nestled into the urban landscape is an unexpected site: a cluster of traditional Korean houses. The Gyesan Yega Modern Culture Experience Center provides a place where visitors can interact with Daegu’s modern history. Groups have the opportunity to take tea making and etiquette classes.

Visitors are more likely to smell the Korean Herbal Medicine Market Street before they see it. The locals have a saying that simply taking a stroll down the street and breathing in the medicinal fragrance will cure what ails you. Shop windows display mushrooms of all shapes, colors and sizes, dried herbs, bundles of prickly branches and roots suspended in amber-colored liquid. These traditional remedies promise to cure everything from poor circulation to graying hair.

The tour is one of many revitalization projects that are renewing a sense of pride in Daegu’s contribution to Korean history. Thanks to the city’s preservation efforts, these places have been rescued from the brink of obscurity and their stories will be shared for years to come.

These investments in the past have paid off. Daegu’s industrial image has been overturned as the city gains recognition for its cultural and historical attractions. When asked if Kwon looked to other cities for inspiration while designing the Alley Tour, he said no. On the contrary, the tour has provided a model for other cities pursuing similar projects.

“They want to come to Daegu to see how we’re doing things,” he said.

Event planners have also taken note of the Modern Culture Alley Tour’s success, and delegates of the World Energy Congress Daegu 2013 had high praise for the tour. Daegu’s newest cultural attractions have made it an inviting destination for groups looking for an immersive experience.

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