UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The World Heritage Convention is a vehicle where sites of outstanding universal value can be recognised and, steps can be taken to safeguard and preserve them for future generations. Administered by UNESCO, sites are either natural or cultural sites, and to gain inclusion must meet at least one of ten selection criteria, six of which referenced cultural criteria and four natural criteria. A total of 167 countries participate within the convention, and there are presently 1,092 Heritage sites worldwide, with 845 having cultural recognition, 209 natural recognition and 38 with mixed status. Vietnam has eight Heritage sites, five of which are cultural, one mixed and two natural.
Central Vietnam possesses three cultural sites, Hoi An Ancient Town, Complex of Hue Monuments, and My Son Sanctuary, all in close proximity of each other, along with the natural site of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park that is located further north. The cultural characteristics and timeline of the three cultural sites are distinct from each other and provide diverse slices of ancient Vietnamese history.
Hoi An is perhaps the best known by tourists and has attributes acknowledged by two UNESCO criteria, in particular, that it is a unique example of “the fusion of cultures over time in an international commercial port”, and that it also represents an exceptionally well preserved Asian trading port. The Complex of Monuments in Hue has been recognised, not only for the work of each monument but also for the town planning and architecture of an “outstanding eastern feudal capital”. My Son is considered to be without equal in Southeast Asia and is an example of how the indigenous Cham people adapted to the external influence of Hindus art and architecture. My Son is recognised for being an important area of the Champa kingdom, which played an important part in both the political and cultural history of South-East Asia.
Hoi An - Ancient Town.
Hoi An, formerly known as Faifo, is a fairly small enclave set just inside the river mouth of the Thu Bon River, on one of its main winding tributaries. Its historic area is an example of an Asian heritage site that has retained much of its older charm and authenticity but has also adapted to cement its place on tourist itineraries by providing a broad selection of touristic experiences and activities.
Hoi An epitomises what many travellers visualise Vietnamese villages to be, and what is often promoted within tourism marketing. A variety of streets, both wide and narrow possess an array of attractive timber-framed buildings that are founded on traditional Vietnamese construction but also embodies Chinese, French and Japanese architectural forms, styling and embellishments. The wider streets are lined with attractive leafy trees that would sit easily within many French village settings. Much is made of the covered Japanese bridge that marks the start of and separation of the historic area from the more recent development that extends out to the coast. There is no question that the historic area has gradually transformed with its development as a tourism destination, with cafés, local tour operators, tailoring businesses, and shops catering for the whims of tourists now having a prominent presence. Despite this, or even because of this Hoi An has kept a certain ambience and charm that endears itself to travellers.
In recognition of the well-preserved nature of its role as a South-East Asian trading port from the era from the 15th-19th century, the historic area of 30 hectares was granted UNESCO World Heritage listing in 1999, with an associated adjacent butter zone of 280 hectares. Its heritage listing particularly notes the fact that its 1,107 timber-framed building reflected the remarkably well-preserved mercantile fabric of its day that represented a fusion of architectural styles. The UNESCO listing states :
Timber frame buildings, with brick or wooden walls, which include architectural monuments, commercial and domestic vernacular structures, notably an open market and a ferry quay, and religious buildings such as pagodas and family cult houses. The houses are tiled and the wooden components are carved with traditional motifs. They are arranged side-by-side in tight, unbroken rows along narrow pedestrian streets.
A substantial food market provides plenty of interest and is supplied of the large area of farmed delta area on the other side of the main tributary of the Thu Bon River, and there are a myriad of pleasant pathways that can be cycled or walked to get a feel of the rice paddies, river fishing, and a simpler life, living along delta regions.
Hoi An - A Brief look at it's Early History.
The town was a major mercantile port for the ancient Champa kingdom and the centre of maritime trading for over a century and a half, constantly reinventing itself to the dynamic commercial environment of the time. The lowland coastal areas of south-central Vietnam, are incised with meandering rivers fed from the steeply rising mountains nearby, and river-mouths formed ideal docking areas for the boats of the Cham, a notable seafaring people. As trade routes developed, the interaction with other cultures provided a variety of influences on the town. Chinese and Indian cultures were to have significant impacts, and later with the expansion of the spice trade routes, Japanese and Arab traders frequented the ports along the coast. Japanese trade expanded as a result of a decree by the Chinese Ming Dynasty forbidding direct trade between China and Japan due to Japanese aggression at its northern frontier. The French were to become the major European colonising power and both French and Japanese influences can still be seen in some of the architecture.
Complex of Hue Monuments.
Hue itself is situated on the wide but shallow Huong River (commonly called Perfume River), approximately 8km inland from the coast. The Huong River itself is slow and sleepy due to the fact that it lies marginally above sea level, its two tributaries are both over 60km with one having over a dozen dangerous waterfalls. The Huong river itself feeds into the large coastal estuary of Thuan An, which is also attached to the two large lagoons of Tam Giang and Can Hai. The topography around Hue is varied with a mountainous backdrop and includes a mix of mountain areas, large plains, rivers and lakes.
A system of canals is also incorporated through the city, with the largest being 27 km long, and much of the city life centres around the water systems. The major Dong Ba market is situated near the start of the Dong Ba Canal from the Huong River. However, the city is best known for the seat of Imperial Government, which is located on the left bank of the river while during colonial times the French quarter was located on the right bank.
The city was modelled on the Forbidden Palace in Beijing and is enclosed by 10 metre thick walls, canals moats and towers, taking over the land of many local villages. The central structure is the Hue Citadel, which housed civil and military administrations, the imperial residence, the Imperial City, the Forbidden Purple City and related Royal Palaces. While the imperial city has suffered from the effects of a number of wars and initial ideological incompatibility after 1975, it is now recognised for its historical, architectural, and town planning attributes. It is the focus for many travellers and much of the building work remains intact, although because the site is largely a shell of its former glory, some vision is required to image the landscaping, decoration and embellishment that would have been present in its day. Outside of the imperial city, there is an array of imperial tombs, and numerous pagodas, along with ancillary fortifications.
Hue was also home to the French during their Colonial days in Vietnam from 1887 through to 1954, who constructed a new city across the Perfume River from the imperial city. While much has disappeared, a number of buildings displaying distinctive French architecture remain. Perhaps the most notable today is La Residence Hue Hotel & Spa, which was originally a guest house for the French Governor, constructed in an Art Deco style prevalent in the 1930’s, but has since been added onto. other buildings of note include Quoc Hoc High School, Le Circle Sportif, and the Truong Then bridge designed by Gustav Eiffel.
Hue - Brief History.
Hue is an ancient city dating back to before 200 BC where it was the regional military headquarters for much of the Chinese occupation of the area at that time. It was ceded to the Cham kingdom but encountered recapture a number of times by the Chinese. With the strengthening presence of the Dai Viet, it was captured the early 1300’s, pushing the Cham further south. It became the seat of the Nguyen Family around the 1560’s who unified the whole of Vietnam with the help of French imperialists in 1802. being both the established seat of the Nguyen Dynasty, its central position made it the ideal capital for the administration of the elongated country.
My Son Sanctuary
My son was the spiritual capital of Champa until the kingdom was forced southward by the advancing Dai Viet, and one of the most ancient sites in Vietnam. It is situated within an elevated basin that is ringed by a series of mountains and forms the catchment area for the notable The Bon River, which flows past the numerous monuments. The site is the culmination of ten centuries of construction of temples and monuments, with a focus towards Shiva, with some devotion to Krishna and Vishnu. While it is a Unesco World Heritage site, it was hidden by the surrounding bush for most of its history, and even today this is a feature. The site was only re-discovered in 1898 by French archaeologists and has largely remained in that state since, and if allowed, would be quickly re-covered by vegetation. Because it is not on the main tourist route, it does not receive the same numbers as elsewhere and this enhances its authenticity for those that make the effort.
In part, My Son’s significance surrounds the manifestation of an Indian culture within an area close to and dominated by imperial Chinese rule. My Son was given UNESCO heritage status in 1999 and covers a large area of 142 hectares, with a surrounding buffer zone of 920 hectares. As a part of its historical significance is noted.
The structures 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.
Much of the damage subsequent to discovery has occurred due to bombardment during the First Indochina War. A visit to My Son is an exercise in recognising, and piecing together the past, rather than marvelling at well-preserved examples of religious architecture often associated with tourist attractions.
My Son - A Brief history.
My Son became the spiritual, and cultural capital of the Cham people, but was separated from government which was seated nearby at Dong Duong (Tra Kieu). While much has been destroyed the earliest constructions that can be identified occurred around AD 400 and surrounded the rulers at that time with their struggles against the northern Vietnamese. The site was set as a centrepiece of for the identity of the Cham and was endowed to subsequent rulers alongside veiled curses if the significance of the early foundation was not maintained. Religious and cultural constructions were continuously built at the site up until the region was overtaken by the Dai Viet, and many tombs around the area. As with most Cham architectural structures, the kings of Champa strove to associate themselves alongside those within the Hindu religion, divinity being a feature, and this is reflected in the ornamentation and embellishments.
The Vietnamese, being organised in more localised communities did not subscribe to the Indian ideology of divinity, and as a consequence, their way of life suited a Buddhist outlook. With a greater emphasis on wooden architecture and Chinese inspiration, the My Son site was soon forgotten and became lost.
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