By The Nation

South Korea’s largest metal mine is turned into a massive tourist attraction

The most populous province in South Korea Gyeonggi-do – the name actually means “surrounding the capital” – is home to a large variety of tourist attractions ranging from such cultural heritage sites as Suwon Hwaseong Fortress from the Joseon Dynasty to the infinitely more modern theme parks Seoul Land and Everland.

They were joined back in 2011 by Gwangmyeong Cave, which was quickly named as one of Korea’s “top 100 representative attractions” and a “Star of Korean Tourism”.

A theme park that has retained its industrial heritage and cultural values, Gwangmyeong Cave takes visitors on a memorable journey through more than a century of history.

Gwangmyeong, located southwest of Seoul, was a site of exploitation during the Japanese colonial period and the largest metal mine in the Seoul metropolitan area between 1912 and 1972, producing the likes of gold, silver, copper and zinc. The company that owned the mine went bankrupt at the end of the Korean War and from 1978 to 2010, it was used as a storage place for salted shrimps – an ingredient used to make kimchi. A year later, it had been transformed into a cavernous theme park and today hosts a wealth of events including movie screenings, concerts, fashion shows and exhibitions. It shot to wider fame when it was chosen as the setting for an episode of the TV show “Running Man”.

We start our visit with an elephant ride to the Lascaux Cave Exhibition, which earlier this month was focused on dinosaurs. Obviously considered a good place for an educational tour, we watched on as groups of cute kindergarten students had fun alternately enjoying and being scared by the dinosaurs as well as making their own dinosaur dig excavation and painting their own dinosaurs on piece of a “Hello! My Dino” paper. The little tykes beamed with pride as their drawings were scanned and uploaded to a big screen.

Leaving the kids to their own devices, we make our way to the 22-metre-high LED media tower and discover the “Golden Heart Post” in a mine cart.
An official tells us it was used by the miners to leave their letters to their loving families.

We follow our guide along the Wind Road into the bowels of the mine, quickly slipping on our jackets as the temperature falls to a chilly 12 degrees Celsius.

Gwangmyeong Cave has many attractive spots to explore, among them Wormhole Square, the Light Space, which is full of colourful LED lights, the Underground World, the underground passage along which miners once carried the mined ore, the Underground Lake, the Golden Road, also known as the road of Long Life, Happiness and Peace, the Modern History Museum, Aqua World which is stocked with fish tanks, and the Media Facade on which a light and sound extravaganza is projected. Sadly, we’re there at the wrong time to enjoy it.

We stop at the golden statue of Aisha, and touch the gold coins in her hand, a gesture that according to legend grants prosperity and happiness in the future, and visit “The Lord of the Cave”, a 41-metre-long dragon sculpture by Weta Workshop that conjures up images of “The Lord of the Rings”, “The Hobbit” and “King Kong”.

As we approach the exit, we see a sign for Miner’s Spring Water, and the guide reminds us that the clean water inside the underground tunnels was a valuable commodity that quenched the miners’ thirst, and The Secret of Longevity gate, under which we pass to ensure longevity and good health.

We pass The Supernova of Wishes, a golden plaque wishing wall that’s full of other people’s wishes and finish our tour at the 200-metre wine cave, where we taste a variety of wines that enjoy a hearty lunch at the classy wine restaurant, Maru de Cave, which serves Korean beef steaks cooked by the leading chefs of high-end hotels.

On the way back to the parking lot, we notice a pink-painted building with a chimney. This, we’re told, is Gwangmyeong Resource Recovery Facility, a garbage incinerator that has been turned into a waste treatment plant equipped with high-tech systems that reduce pollution and produce energy for heating nearby homes. It also serves as an educational centre for local students and promotes eco-friendly resource circulation.

The parking lot is right next to the Gwangmyeong Upcycle Art Centre and we stop for a few minutes to marvel at how artists have transformed miners’ helmets and car wing mirrors into works of art.

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