Geography of Korea: VII. Jeolla-do> 2. Jeollanam-do
Like Jeollabuk-do, Jeollanam-do was created in 1896 with the division of Jeolla-do province into northern and southern provinces. Its provincial capital is Muan and its total population is 1.91 million (about 3.7 percent of the national population), ranking it fifth in terms of population among the nation’s nine provinces. The province’s total area is 12,304 sq. km. (12.3 percent of the national territory), making it the third largest province after Gyeongsangbuk-do and Gangwon-do. Its population density averages 155 persons/sq. km., making it the third least densely populated after Gangwon-do and Gyeongsangbuk-do.
The province’s geological makeup is largely composed of metamorphic rocks and granites belonging to the Mt. Sobaek and Mt. Jiri gneiss complexes as well as rocks of the Gyeongsang Supergroup. In terms of topography, bisected by the Noryeongsanmaek Range, the province has a region of plains to the mountain range’s west and the continuation of mountains to its east. Generally speaking, taking the watershed of the province’s Seomjin and Yeongsan Rivers (i.e., the so-called Honam jeongmaek) as a border, to the east one finds higher elevations and to the west lowlands. High peaks of the province’s eastern portion include Mt. Baekun (1218m) in Gwangyang, Mt. Jogye (884m) in Seungju, and Mt. Jeam (779m) in Boseong. At the eastern edge of this region one finds Gurye’s Mt. Jiri (1950m). The Seomjin River, which has its origins in Gurye, goes on to form the frontier between the Jeolla-do and Gyeongsang-do regions. The Yeongsan River, which originates in Damyang, is smaller than the Seomjin but it is counted as one of the country’s four major rivers, after the Han, Nakdong, and Geumgang Rivers.
The coastal region of Jeollanam-do is extremely irregular and has myriads of inlets and small coastal islands. The southern coast of this region enjoys international renown as an example of a ria coast formation. Unique to Jeollanam-do are its more than two thousand coastal islands, both inhabited and uninhabited. Of the region’s many bays and inlets the only ones of significant size are the Hampyeong, Yeongam, Gangjin, and Boseong Bays. The coastal region has expansive tidelands and the area has long been the locus of tideland reclamation work, and many close offshore islands have been connected to the mainland by bridge.
The Jeollanam-do region enjoys a milder climate than the country’s central regions, with an annual mean temperature of around 12˚C (53.6˚F), 25˚C (77˚F) in August, and -3–1˚C (26.6–33.8˚F) in January. The mean January temperatures for the southern coastal region stretching from Mokpo to Yeosu through Haenam, Wando, Jangheung, and Goheung typically do not drop below freezing. The average precipitation rate for Jeollanam-do is higher than the rest of the national average. The southern coastal region of the province can exceed 1500mm annually, with the inland region receiving about 1300mm. The precipitation of the southern coastal region does not penetrate much into the mountains but it would seem that the precipitation rate of the Honam jeongmaek is influenced by coastal rates. With its milder winters, onions and cabbage can be grown as winter crops and the region is lush in temperate evergreen forest. Typical evergreen broadleaf trees found here are the magnolia, camellia, and the castanopsis, while the Mt. Chungnyeong Recreational Forest in Jangseong is famed for its cypress trees.
Jeollanam-do has some 2077 sq. km. under paddy cultivation (16.8 percent of its land area), the highest rate in the country, while it has some 1171 sq. km. under dry field cultivation, the second highest rate after Gyeongsangbuk-do. The rates of wet paddy field agriculture are high in places like Naju, Hampyeong, Damyang, and Jangseong in the basin of the Yeongsan River as well as in coastal areas like Yeongam, Gangjin, Jangheung, Boseong, and Gwangyang. Besides rice, important crops of Jeollanam-do include barley and sweet potato, while radish, cabbage, watermelon, garlic, and onion are also widely cultivated. In terms of fruit, the pears of Naju are highly prized.
Though due to its extended coastline and numerous offshore islands the province’s fishery industry is well developed, the proportion of aquacultural enterprises, such as the cultivation of laver, sea mustard, oysters, and abalone, is increasing. Jeollanam-do has hundreds of fishing ports both large and small. In terms of fish species, important catches are croaker, hairtail, mullet, ancovy, shrimp, oysters, and mollusk, pen shells, and octopus. The region’s large ports include Mokpo, Yeosu, Wando, and Beopseongpo, whereas some smaller but very pictueresque ports include Nokdong in Goheung county, Yulpo in Boseong county, Maryang in Gangjin county, and Yerihang on Heuksando Island. Worth noting especially is Beopseongpo in Yeonggwang county, the nation’s largest producer gulbi, dried yellow croaker, that finds both distribution nationwide and Korea and export abroad. Most industry in the province is concentrated in the areas of Gwangju, Yeocheon, Donggwangyang, Mokpo, and Yeosu. Gwangju has a variety of industries, while Yeocheon has a developed petrochemical industry, Donggwangyang a ferrous metallurgy industry, Mokpo has fisheries, and Yeosu is home to major industries such as shipbuilding.
As of 2014 Jeollanam-do had 5 designated cities (Naju, Suncheon, Gwangyang, Yeosu, and Mokpo), 17 counties (Yeonggwang, Jangseong, Damyang, Gokseong, Gurye, Hwasun, Hampyeong, Muan, Sinan, Yeongam, Jindo, Haenam, Wando, Gangjin, Jangheung, Boseong, and Goheung). Of these, the most populous is the city of Yeosu (290,000, or 15.2 percent of the province’s total population). This is followed by Suncheon (270,000), Mokpo (240,000), and Naju (90,000). All the counties have populations between 20,000–80,000, with the most populous being Haenam county (78,000) and the least populous being Gurye county (27,000).
The city of Mokpo was the province’s earliest developed city, emerging out of the laying of the Honam Line during the Japanese colonial period (1910–1945). Following this came the development of other rail lines, such as the Jeolla Line between Iksan and Yeosu and the Gyeongjeon Line between Gwangju and Busan. With the completion of highway networks in the province, such as the Honam Expressway, Seohaean (West Coast) Expressway, 88 Olympic Expressway, Namhae Expressway, Muan-Gwangju Expressway, Iksan-Pohang Expressway, and Gwangju-Wonju Expressway, the notion of the province’s poor transportation situation became a thing of the past.
Jeolla-do has numerous well-known places, products, and events: Yeosu’s Jinnamgwan Hall (former headquarters of the navy in Jeolla-do during the Joseon dynasty), Odongdo Island, and Manseong-ri Beach, Dadohae National Maritime Park, Songgwang Temple in Suncheon, the tea plantations and green tea of Boseong, Yeongam’s Mt. Wolchul National Park and Formula 1 racing circuit, Wando’s Cheonghaejin Garrison (a naval base dating back to the ancient Silla period), Mokpo’s Mt. Yudal and its modern urban landscape, the islands of Hongdo and Heuksando, the city of Gwangju, birthplace of the nation’s Minju (grassroots democracy) movement, and its Geumnam-ro street (where the May 18, 1980 protest against authoritarian rule began) and May 18 Memorial Park. Jeollanam-do is also well known in Korea as the nation’s gastronomic capital, being notable especially for its baekban (a meal characterized by a plethora of small side dishes) and hanjeongsik (traditional Korean meal, also with many side dishes) menus, which are more elaborate than in any other part of the country and often include dozens of side dishes, including many items that are known throughout the country as regional specialities of the Jeollanam-do region, including live octopus, gulbi (dried yellow croaker), salted fish, chueotang (a stew of loach fish and soybean paste), hongeo (fermented skate fish), croaker fish, green tea, gat kimchi (pickled mustard stems), and bulgogi (marinated and grilled beef).