lotus_icon.png Hội An: An Ancient City and Trading Center

Hoi An Ancient Town is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century. Its buildings and its street plan reflect the influences, both indigenous and foreign, that have combined to produce this unique heritage site.

Hoi An: An Ancient City and Trading Center of Vietnam

The town is a special example of a traditional trading port in South-East Asia which has been completely and assiduously preserved: it is the only town in Viet Nam that has survived intact in this way. Most of the buildings are in the traditional architectural style of the 19th and 20th centuries. They are aligned along narrow lanes of traditional type. They include many religious buildings, such as pagodas, temples, meeting houses, etc., which relate to the development of a port community. The traditional lifestyle, religion, customs and cooking have been preserved and many festivals still take place annually.

Archaeological finds and excavations have shown that there was a port and trading centre of the local Sa Huynh people along the Thu Bon River as early as the 2nd century BC. This continued to expand, especially during its most flourishing period from the late 16th to the early 18th centuries. It was through Hoi An that Christianity penetrated Vietnam in the 17th century.

Hoi An in the morning

It retained its role as the main port of the central region throughout the 19th century, when the Nguyen dynasty kings operated a "closed trade policy." By the end of the century, the rise of other ports on the coast of Vietnam, in particular Da Nang, and silting of its harbour, led to the final eclipse of Hoi An. As a result of this economic stagnation, it has preserved its early appearance in a remarkably intact state, the only town in the country to have done so. The ancient town is situated on the north bank of Thu Bon River. There is a street running east-west along the river's edge and three further streets parallel to the river. They are intersected at right angles by streets and alleys. Within this area there are houses (often combined with shops), religious monuments such as pagodas, temples, communal houses and family cult houses, a ferry quay and an open market.

Hoi An by night

The architecture of Hoi An, which is almost entirely of wood, is of considerable interest. It combines traditional Vietnamese designs and techniques with those from other countries, above all China and Japan, whose citizens settled there to trade and built houses and community centres to their own designs.

The typical house conforms to a corridor plan, the following elements occurring in sequence: house, yard and house. The buildings are:

  • Family cult houses, dedicated to the worship of ancestors;
  • The community houses, used for worship of ancient sages, founders of settlements, or the legendary founders of crafts;
  • The pagodas are almost all from the 19th century, although inscriptions show them to have been founded in the 17th and 18th centuries. They conform to a square layout and decoration is largely confined to the elaborate roofs. In the case of the larger examples, they constituted nuclei of associated buildings with religious and secular functions. Some of the larger pagodas also served as meeting halls. These are located along the main street (Tran Phu).

Hoi An river

There is a fine wooden bridge, reminiscent of Japanese examples, with a pagoda on it. It has existed from at least the early 18th century, as an inscription indicates, but it has been reconstructed many times. There is also a number of ancient tombs in Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese style within the buffer zone.

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lotus_icon.png Imperial City of Huế: Complex of Monuments in The Former Imperial Capital

Established as the capital of unified Viet Nam in 1802, Hue was not only the political but also the cultural and religious centre under the Nguyen dynasty until 1945. The Perfume River winds its way through the Capital City, the Imperial City, the Forbidden Purple City and the Inner City, giving this unique feudal capital a setting of great natural beauty.

Hue Complex of Monuments in The Former Imperial Capital of Vietnam

Hue represents an outstanding demonstration of the power of the vanished Vietnamese feudal empire at its apogee in the early 19th century. The complex of monuments is an outstanding example of an eastern feudal capital and of the planning and construction of a complete defended capital city in a relatively short period. The integrity of town layout and building design make it an exceptional specimen of late feudal urban planning.

Hue served as the administrative centre of southern Vietnam in the 17th and 18th centuries. Gia Long, first ruler of the Nguyen dynasty, made it the national capital of united Vietnam in 1802, a position that it held until 1945. It was selected because it is situated in the geographical centre of the country and with easy access to the sea. The new capital was planned in accordance with ancient oriental philosophy in general and Vietnamese tradition in particular; it also respected the physical conditions of the site, especially the Perfume River and Ngu Binh Mountain (known as the Royal Screen). The relationship between the five cardinal points (centre, west, east, north, south), five natural elements (earth, metal, wood, water, fire), and five basic colours (yellow, white, blue, black, red) underlies the conception of the city, and is reflected in the names of some important features. The Perfume River, the main axis, divides the capital in two.

The Beauty of Hue

Four citadels or defended enclosures made up the city: Kinh Thanh (Capital City), for official administrative buildings; Hoang Thanh (Imperial City) for royal palaces and shrines; Tu Cam Thanh (Forbidden Purple City) for the royal residences; Dai Noi (or Inner City); and Tran Binh Dai, an additional defensive work in the north-east corner of the Capital City, designed to control movement on the river. A fifth fortress, Tran Hai Thanh, was constructed a little later to protect the capital against assault from the sea. Planning lasted from 1803 to 1805, and it was not until 1832 that construction was complete. The new capital was much larger than its predecessor, Dong Trang, and encompassed several villages as well. The fortress itself was modelled on the European style of Vauban, the first of its type in South-East Asia, but the complex suffered considerably as a result of military operations in 1885, 1947 and 1968.

The main enceinte, the Capital City, is square in plan, each side measuring 2,235 m. The defensive walls have six projecting bastions on each side and ten gates. The external defensive works comprise a berm, ditch, and glacis. The buildings inside the Capital City include various former ministerial buildings, the Royal College and the Hué Museum. The Inner City is rectangular in plan and defended by brick walls, supplemented by a moat and wide berm; there is a single entrance on each of the walls. Inside it is divided by walls into a number of zones - the Great Ceremonies Zone, the Worshipping Zone, the residential zone of the King's Mother and Grandmother, the storage and workshop zone, the garden and school zone for royal princes, as well as the Forbidden Purple City. The palaces within the Inner City are similar in style and design, set on a raised podium, with wooden trusses (usually ironwood), gilded and painted pillars and rafters, brick walls, and roofs of yellow- or blue-glazed cylindrical tiles. Roof edges are straight, and the decoration, both internally and externally, is abundant. Among the most important buildings are the Palace of Supreme Harmony, the royal reception hall; the Mieu Temple, the royal place of worship; the Queen Mother's Palace; and the Pavilion of Dazzling Benevolence.

At the heart of the complex is the Forbidden Purple City, surrounded by brick walls. There is a single gate in the front wall, reserved for the use of the king, and the other walls have several entrances, each with a specific purpose. Originally there were over 40 buildings within the walls, but most are now in ruins and only their foundations survive.

Outside the Capital City there are several associated monuments of importance. These include the tombs of the Nguyen dynasty to the south of the Perfume River. Other structures along both banks of the river are buildings related to the spiritual life of the dynasty, including the Temple of Literature, the Esplanade of the Sacrifice to the Sun and Earth, the Royal Arena and the Temple of the Roaring Elephant, and the Celestial Lady Pagoda.

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"Travel Vietnam: Hue and the Perfume River

"A Day in Hue" - Canon Asia

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lotus_icon.png Mỹ Sơn: Ancient Temple Complex of The Former Champa Civilization

Between the 4th and 13th centuries a unique culture which owed its spiritual origins to Indian Hinduism developed on the coast of contemporary Viet Nam. This is graphically illustrated by the remains of a series of impressive tower-temples located in a dramatic site that was the religious and political capital of the Champa Kingdom for most of its existence.

My Son - Ancient Temple Complex of The Former Champa Civilization in Vietnam

My Son Sanctuary dates from the 4th to the 13th centuries CE. The property is located in the mountainous border Duy Xuyen District of Quang Nam Province, in central Viet Nam. It is situated within an elevated geological basin surrounded by a ring of mountains, which provides the watershed for the sacred Thu Bon river. The source of the Thu Bon river is here and it flows past the monuments, out of the basin, and through the historic heartland of the Champa Kingdom, draining into the East sea at its mouth near the ancient port city of Hoi An. The location gives the sites its strategic significance as it is also easily defensible.  

The tower temples were constructed over ten centuries of continuous development in what was the heart of the ancestral homeland of the ruling Dua Clan which unified the Cham clans and established the kingdom of Champapura (Sanskrit for City of the Cham people) in 192 CE. Under the Hinduism influence many temples were built to the Hindu divinities such as Krishna and Vishnu, but above all Shiva. Although Mahayan Buddhist penetrated the Cham culture, probably from the 4thcentury CE, and became strongly established in the north of the kingdom, Shivite Hinduism remained the established state religion.

My Son located near Da Nang

While the religious significance of My Son was important, its location in a small valley surrounded by high mountains gave it strategic significance as an easily defensible stronghold. Successive kings in the 6th to 8th centuries favoured My Son and endowed it with fine temples. In the later 10th century, most of the finest surviving architectural monuments were built there.

The monuments of the My Son sanctuary are the most important constructions of the My Son civilization. The tower temples have a variety of architectural designs symbolizing the greatness and purity of Mount Meru, the mythical sacred mountain home of Hindu gods at the center of the universe, now symbolically reproduced on Earth in the mountainous homeland of the Cham people. They are constructed in fired brick with stone pillars and decorated with sandstone bas-reliefs depicting scenes from Hindu mythology. Their technological sophistication is evidence of Cham engineering skills while the elaborate iconography and symbolism of the tower-temples give insight into the content and evolution of Cham religious and political thought.  

The monuments of the My Son sanctuary

Most of the 11th century was a period of continuous warfare and My Son, along with other sacred sites in the Champa Kingdom, suffered grievously. Harivarman IV had moved his capital to Do Ban towards the end of the century and he undertook the restoration of My Son. From 1190 to 1220 the Champa Kingdom was occupied by the Khmers. From the 13th century the Champa Kingdom slowly declined and was absorbed by the growing power of Viet Nam. It ceased to exist as an entity in the later 15th century, when worship ceased at My Son.

The site represents the ancient settlement and sanctuary area; eight groups of tower temples have been singled out. In date they cover the period from the 10th to the 13th centuries, and this long date range is reflected in different architectural styles. All are constructed in fired brick with stone pillars and decorated with sandstone bas-reliefs depicting scenes from Hindu mythology.The main tower (kalan ) symbolizes the sacred mountain (meru ) at the centre of the universe. The square or rectangular base (bhurloka ), representing the human world, is built from brick or stone blocks and decorated with reliefs. Above this rises the main tower (bhuvakola ), constructed entirely in brick, with applied columns and a false door facing east.The interiors are plain, with small niches for lamps; the Shivalingam was situated on a plinth in the centre. It symbolized the spirit world. The towers were separated from their roofs (suarloka ) by a decorated frieze. Many of these roofs were originally covered with gold or silver leaf.

 

The monuments are unique and without equal in Southeast Asia.  

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