The sadness of heritage

Relics and heritage are now a very “hot” topic in Việt Nam.

There were many incidents related to monuments and heritages happening recently, revealing many things to think about…

Hội-AnThe ancient town of Hội An

Heritage syndrome?

Let’s review, starting from the Central Region!

In 1993, Huế ancient citadel in Thừa Thiên – Huế province was recognized by UNESCO as a world cultural heritage.

It is also the first World Heritage of Việt Nam.

In 1999, Hội An ancient town and Mỹ Sơn Sanctuary in Quảng Nam were also recognized as world cultural heritage.

The term “Central Region Heritage Road” appeared after that.

In 2003, the cave system of Phong Nha – Kẻ Bàng in Quảng Bình province was recognized by UNESCO as natural heritage, extending the heritage road to the northern central region.

In 2011, the Hồ Dynasty Citadel in Thanh Hóa was honored by the UNESCO, adding one more world cultural heritage to the central region.

After the failure to nominate the Cúc Phương National Park (1991) and the ancient capital of Hoa Lư (1991) as world natural and cultural heritage, Ninh Bình province still persisted in the search for world-class heritage because the heritage road has expanded to Thanh Hóa, its neighboring province.

Ninh Bình is now seeking the world heritage title for the Tràng An – Bái Đính beauty spot.

Many localities that are not in favor of natural landscapes or architectural and cultural heritage, are searching for the title of world intangible cultural heritage for folk arts and traditional festivals.

After the Huế royal court music and the cultural space of Highlands gongs which were both recognized by UNESCO in 2008, Bắc Ninh folk duet (quan họ) and ca trù (ceremonial songs) were recognized in 2009.

In 2010, the Gióng Festival at Phù Đổng Temple and Sóc Temple in Hà Nội were honored.

A year later, hát xoan (xoan singing) of Phú Thọ province was recognized.

Early in 2013, Phú Thọ was again honored with the title of world intangible cultural heritage for the “Religious Worship of Hung Kings.”

It seems the way to the intangible heritage title is more easily than for cultural and natural heritage titles so many other provinces have suggested their folk arts and festivals as world heritage.

Ví dặm singing of Nghệ An and Hà Tĩnh provinces has been submitted to the UNESCO.

Bình Định Province has recently proposed the Ministry of Culture – Sports and Tourism to consider its bai choi art as a nominee for the world intangible cultural heritage.

The provinces that do not have world heritage sites all have national relics and landscapes and they also want to “upgrade” their national relics into the world level.

Quảng Ninh province is preparing to submit its Yên Tử historical and religious relic to the UNESCO to recognize it as a world cultural heritage.

It is highly possible that the Heritage Road of the Central Region will not be broken in the future because the central region has a lot of relics and landscapes and all local governments are eager to have heritage.

Perhaps the “heritage season” has never been so busy like now, from the national to the international level.

Early in 2013, Thổ Hà village festival in Bắc Giang was recognized as intangible cultural heritage of the national level, followed by the Hoàng Sa flotilla ceremony of Quảng Ngãi.

Many records have been compiled to send to the UNESCO for considering chau van singing of Nam Định, then singing of Tuyên Quang, Đông Hồ folk paintings of Bắc Ninh, đờn ca tài tử singing of the southern region, Cát Bà island of Hải Phòng city, Cát Tiên National Park of Đồng Nai… as intangible cultural or natural heritage of the world.

That number of nominees has made the UNESCO … panicked.

If this keeps continuing, perhaps Việt Nam will have world heritages everywhere.

PagodaThe One Pillar Pagoda

And … the sadness of heritage

However, there are a lot of sad stories in the busy “heritage season.”

Đàn Xã Tắc (Earth altar) in Hà Nội, which was recognized as national monument in 2007, is about to be covered by an overpass.

Despite the objection of several experts over the plan to build an overpass at the Ô Chợ Dừa junction in Hanoi as it will affect Đàn Xã Tắc archaeological site, the project is still underway.

According to Professor Nguyễn Quang Ngọc, Chairman of Hà Nội Historian Association, the Đàn Xã Tắc was built in 1048 by the Lý Dynasty to worship the Earth and the Rice Goddess and pray for good crops.

Đàn Xã Tắc was classed as a national heritage site by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in 2007.

The overpass will be built using concrete and have a section running over the Đàn Xã Tắc site.

The junction Ô Chợ Dừa has always been one of the places seeing highest traffic jams during rush hours in Hà Nội.

While building Hà Nội’s Kim Liên – Ô Chợ Dừa Road in November 2006, workers unearthed remains related to Đàn Xã Tắc.

Archaeologists found ancient bricks, tiles and pottery proving that the area once held an offering altar.

Đàn Xã Tắc was where the Lý, Trần and Lê dynasties performed prayer rituals to the heavens and earth for good weather, peace, prosperity and happiness for the people.

In theory the area would have significant historical importance.

The One Pillar Pagoda, Hà Nội’s icon, is calling for help.

The pagoda has been in state of serious deterioration for many years.

During the rainy season, statues within the building can often be seen wearing raincoats, while nuns and monks collect rain water in buckets.

Some areas of the complex are prone to regular flooding.

However, the relevant agencies have neglected the situation.

Most recently, 78 people of 60 households in Đường Lâm ancient village in Hà Nội signed in a petition to return the title national relic to the state.


When Đường Lâm became a national relic in 2005, the village has to observe the Heritage Law.

All households in the village have not licensed to build anything.

It is worth mentioning that the village’s population is increasing, but local people are not allowed to construct or enlarge their own home.

Many houses have up to three couples sharing a room of just over 10m2.

Not enough beds, babies sleep with their parents while bigger kids have to lie on the ground.

There are many families use a single room as their bed room, their kitchen and their living room.

It is ridiculous that Hà Nội is considering nominating this village as a world heritage.

Before that, many relics and heritage had been harmed in the name of restoration:

The Trăm Gian Pagoda in Hà Nội which is nearly one thousand years old was repaired to become a one-year pagoda; the ancient Mạc Dynasty citadel in Tuyên Quang was turned into a new brick citadel…

At the same time, the Hội An ancient town is alerted of losing its soul; the restoration of the Nam Giao altar in the Hồ Dynasty citadel lacks of scientific foundation; the construction of new works in the Mỹ Sơn sanctuary, etc.

Many monuments and heritage sites were untouched in the past but after they are honored as heritage, they are no longer in peace.

Commercial and “restoration” activities have been harming these relics.

“Heritage” – that word itself has an inner depth, rather than an industrial or a commercial item.

The heritage title does not mean anything when the value of genuine and original is not preserved.

Is it sad to see heritage everywhere?

Source: Sài Gòn Marketing Magazine


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