Northern village preserves rich architectural heritage
by Thuy Hang
Located by the Nhue River, 15km west of Ha Noi, the ancient village of Cu Da is famous for its soya sauce and glass noodles.
Old and new: The village is not only home to traditional houses but also modern colonial French villas.
Changing times: The village's entrance features a clock.
Steeped in tradition: Traditional houses reflect the typical architectural style of the Hong (Red) River Delta region. — VNS Photos Truong Vi
The suburban village has been attracting an increasing number of tourists in recent years, not only for its local specialities, but its traditional houses which reflect both the architectural and cultural values of the northern rural region.
Home to more than 100 wooden houses, the village is a popular tourist attraction for people in search of a glimpse of the past.
Most of the tiled houses, which are hundreds of years old, were built from go xoan (bead tree or Chinaberry tree).
The houses form a complex in the typical traditional architectural style of the Hong (Red) River Delta region.
A main house includes an ancestral altar, a set of wooden couches and a tea table. In the wings of the house are bedrooms for the owner and his eldest son. The other space is used for the women's living quarters.
The outbuildings are smaller than the main house and used as kitchens and dining rooms, and for storage.
The traditional house of Trinh The Sung in Dong Nhan Cat Hamlet is considered the most beautiful and untouched of its kind.
Built in 1864, the house consists of 35 wooden pillars, decorated in intricate carvings.
"The house has maintained its original structure since I started living here after marrying my late husband 68 years ago," said Sung's mother, Dinh Thi Khuyen, 85.
With a similar architectural style, the 360sq.m house of Dinh Van Du in the same hamlet welcomes many visitors. According to the owner, six generations of his family have lived in the 200-year-old house.
The typical architecture of the northern rural area can also be found in the archways leading into the village's 12 hamlets.
"Cu Da may be Ha Noi's only suburban village to retain the soul of the northern countryside. I often visit the village, which is the birthplace of my grandmother, to take in its rural atmosphere," said 74-year-old Hanoian Tran Ngoc Toan.
The simple beauty of Cu Da together with its traditional houses have been used as the setting for a number of Vietnamese movies and TV series, including the famous Bao Gio Cho Den Thang Muoi (When the Tenth Month Comes), and the recent Leu Chong (Going to Royal Exam).
Although founded 800 years ago, the village really flourished from 1890 to 1945.
With the advantage of a riverside location, the village was home to successful businessmen, who spared no expense on their living conditions.
In 1929, Cu Da became the first village in the country to have electricity.
The evidence of that glorious period also includes a flag tower that was built in the same year, the ornate archway leading into the village featuring a large clock – a sign of the affluent times, and the brick roads leading to every corner of the village.
The village is not only home to traditional houses, but also modern colonial French villas, more than 20 of which can be found across the village.
Among the French villas, the estate of Trinh Thi Hong in Ba Gang Hamlet is considered the most beautiful. The two-storey house still retains almost all of its original features, including flowery motifs, a wrought iron balcony, tiled floors and a wooden staircase that combine to make an intriguing mix of French and Vietnamese styles.
However, according to Vu Van Bang, head of the Cu Khe District's Cultural Division, the number of traditional houses is decreasing as the passage of time takes its toll. Many are now nothing more than shells while others have sustained serious damage.
Urbanisation has also had a negative effect on the village in recent years. In some people's opinion, the traditional house is no longer fit to house a modern-day family. "That's why many families in the village demolish their old houses to make way for new, multi-storey concrete houses. It is of grave concern to local authorities as well as the people who want to preserve traditional cultural value," Bang said.
Fortunately, the problem has attracted the attention of local media, helping raise awareness among villagers of the importance of preserving their houses.
Dinh Van Truong, the owner of a seriously damaged French villa, said he refused to replace his rickety house with a new building. "My sons and I will repair the house, and hopefully, many generations of our family will live to enjoy it." — VNS