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Jinju (meaning "pearl" in Korean; the name was formerly spelled Chinju) has a pretty name and is an equally beautiful spot. An ancient city with a long history, it was founded during the Gaya Period and received its present name during the third year of the reign of Goryeo King Taejo. The city suffered through two battles during the Imjin Waeran of the 1590s -- the first time Jinju was able to defend itself against the Japanese, but the second time it fell after a prolonged siege of Jinju Fortress. In 1812, Jinju was the center of an ineffectual but memorable peasant uprising, which foreshadowed a larger rebellion later on. Beginning in 1895, it was the capital of Gyeongsangnam-do until Busan outgrew it and took over in 1925.

Despite its volatile history, Jinju has been the cultural and transportation center of the area for centuries. The vibrant arts and culture scene comes alive during the annual Gaecheon Yesulje Festival in early October. The festival began in 1949 to commemorate the Korean victory in the Jinjuseong Battle of 1592, but has grown into the best arts festival in the country. It has been held at the Jinju Fortress every year since, except in 1950, during the Korean War, and during the military coup in 1979. Highlights include historical costume plays, classical Korean musical performances, and fireworks. It coincides with the Jinju Namgang Lantern Festival and the National Bullfighting Contest. If you're in the city in the spring, don't miss the annual Jinju Bibimbap Festival, which highlights the city's traditional food and happens the fourth week of May.

The Nam River snakes through the city's center and determines the orientation of its buildings. The city is a convenient starting point for exploring the eastern section of Jirisan National Park.