Digging up the past

Published: 06/12/2008 05:00



VietNamNet Bridge - On the site of the Thang Long citadel in Hanoi there is a thousand-year old story of power and politics that needs to be told.

VietNamNet Bridge - On the site of the Thang Long citadel in Hanoi there is a thousand-year old story of power and politics that needs to be told.

In December 2002, the Vietnamese Institute of Archaeology started excavating a 47,720sqm site on Hoang Dieu street in Hanoi. The site turned out to be part of Thang Long Imperial citadel, the capital of Vietnam’s during the Ly, Tran and Le dynasties.

Precious relics were soon uncovered that would help shed light on these respective dynasties’ rituals. The story of Vietnam’s feudal dynasties can be a disjointed affair. As one ruling dynasty wrested control the narrative of history inevitably switched tracks while the architecture of the fallen either fell asunder or was razed to the ground. For historians and archaeologists looking to join the dots, the importance of Thang Long citadel is immeasurable.

A thousand years ago..

In 1010, Ly Thai To, the founder of the Ly dynasty, transferred the royal court from Hoa Lu in present-day Ninh Binh province to Dai La (present-day Hanoi). According to legend when the royal fleet dropped anchor along the Nhi river (now the Red river), the king saw a golden dragon soaring from the area. Believing this to be an omen, he renamed Dai La as Thang Long, which means soaring dragon in Vietnamese.

Thang Long was the royal capital until 1802 until Nguyen Anh took the throne as King Gia Long (1802-1819) and transferred the royal seat of government to Phu Xuan (present day Hue city). Thang Long became a provincial capital and exercised influence over 11 northern citadels. The word “Long” (dragon) was altered to “Long”, which means prosperity.

“Between 1803-1805, the citadel was rebuilt using the principles of the French military architect Vauban but on a smaller scale than before, with five gates, none of which faced south,” says Professor Phan Huy Le, a renowned local historian.

The citadel was then renamed again, this time as Hanoi, meaning the city within a confluence of rivers, in 1831 by Gia Long’s son Minh Mang (1820-1840). In 1848, King Tu Duc (1847-1883) further reduced the former capital’s importance by ordering the destruction of most of its royal palaces and the removal of many valuable articles to Hue. From 1884 to 1887, the French tightened its grip on northern Vietnam.

French forces captured the citadel and destroyed most of the remaining buildings before establishing a military barracks and a number of depots of their own on the site. “Now, only Thang Long citadel’s Kinh Thien Palace foundation and Doan Mon (main gate) and the Hanoi citadel’s Bac Mon (north gate) and Ky Dai (flag tower) can be seen,” says Le. Nevertheless, it is hoped that Thang Long Imperial Citadel will be recognised as a world heritage site by UNESCO early next year.

Satisfying UNESCO criteria

Since 2004, local and international groups have actively sought further recognition for Thang Long Imperial Citadel. The royal citadel was declared a national historic site and architectural relic in late 2007. A formal application to UNESCO has also been completed with the help of both foreign and local scientists, including those from the Vietnam-Japan Experts’ Joint Committee, the Ile region of France and UNESCO.

Nguyen Van Son, the director of the Centre for Conserving Co Loa Historical and Cultural Site and Hanoi Ancient Citadel, says that the findings at the site prove this was Vietnam’s political centre as far back as the La Thanh period in the beginning of the 9th century when Vietnam was known as An Nam, under the rule of China’s Tang dynasty.

This area is still the centre of power of Vietnam with the National Assembly, Office of the Central Committee of the Party, ministries of Foreign Affairs and Investment and Planning and many other important agencies in the locale. This is the thousand year long story of Hanoi that needs to be told.

“The Thang Long Imperial Citadel meets UNESCO’s criteria for a historical and cultural site,” says Le. “The most valuable criterion is that the site has been the political, economic and cultural hub for more than 1,000 years.” “The citadel was influenced by the great ideas of the time such as Confucianism, Catholicism, Taoism and Buddhism, which were mixed with traditional culture to create a Thang Long culture,” says Son.

Le adds that later on, Thang Long was also influenced by Cham culture – for example you can find a carving of the nymph Kinnari, an Indian genie, and then by Western civilisation, with the incorporation of Vauban’s defensive architectural designs. A set of documents to nominate the site as a world historical and cultural site was already submitted to UNESCO in late September this year although Son says further documents will be added.

“The deadline for re-submitting the documents to UNESCO is February 1, 2009,” he says. As long as the application satisfies UNESCO, a delegation is likely to be sent to Vietnam for a direct examination. “If everything goes well, UNESCO’s Heritage Council will hold an official meeting in late June or early July in 2010 to decide on the recognition of the site,” says Son.

As Dang Van Bai, the head of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism’s Cultural Heritage Department, says “if a historical and cultural site or relic is recognised as a special national site or world heritage, it will then receive special attention from the state and will soon become a tourist centre luring more and more tourists.”

Japanese archaeologists said the cultural heritage complex of Thang Long - Hanoi can be compared with such World Cultural Heritages as the Complex of Hue Vietnam and the Historic Monuments of Japan’s Ancient Nara. Monuments in central .

Work to be done

“We have a great asset here. It will take time to do research and [we] need more support from local and foreign organisations,” says Son, who readily admits local archaeologists have less experience in preserve historical relics. Le Van Lan, another famous Vietnamese historian, stresses the difficulty in preserving the site. “UNESCO can recognise the site as a world heritage, if it is wholly preserved.

The problem now is to protect the site now, which is not simple,” says Lan. “In fact, the current construction of the National Assembly House has encroached on an area of 1,300sqm.” He says many local and foreign organisations have offered technical and financial assistance to preserve the site.

“The French and Japanese presidents have offered specific support. But the problem is how the government will deal with different preservation measures,” Lan says. At present, the government budget is spent almost entirely on research, not on preservation. “We need more funding for keeping the site, which will be quite costly,” adds Lan.

There are also concerns over the impact of Hanoi’s rapid development on the site, even though much of it is surrounded by cultural buildings such as Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the National Assembly House. “The site can be damaged by smoke and dust and any measure to preserve the site cannot break up the Ba Dinh square area,” says Bai, who suggests the site could be turned into an outdoor museum, a popular measure used around the world.”

According to the Department of Cultural Heritage, in the absence of investment capital for preservation, parts of the site should be temporarily filled with sand for long-term preservation. When there is enough capital, more excavations will continue.

Much work needs to be done. A complete study of the architectural relics has not been made. Interconnections among the relics have yet to be made. Different phases of the construction periods are still unknown.

(Source: Timeout)

Update from: http://english.vietnamnet.vn//vniden/2008/12/817343/

Provide by Vietnam Travel

Digging up the past - Vietnam Identity - Life in Vietnam |  vietnam travel company

You can see more

enews & updates

Sign up to receive breaking news as well as receive other site updates!

Ads by Adonline