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Archaeologists want to excavate bulldozed royal tomb site

Update: July, 04/2017 - 08:15
Site that members of the Nguyễn Family committee believe the grave of the king’s wife is located. — VNS Photo Điền Quang
Viet Nam News

THỪA THIÊN- HUẾ — Archaeologists are demanding permission to conduct excavations at the site of the tomb of one of King Tự Đức’s wives, which was bulldozed recently, to preserve whatever is undamaged.

The incident in the central Thừa Thiên-Huế Province came to light on June 21, and has agitated locals and historians, which in turn has prompted the provincial People’s Committee to demand a report on the episode. The site was being bulldozed for the construction of a parking lot.

Đỗ Bang, chairman of the local Association of Historical Science, said excavation work should be done around the site where the ancient tomb was razed for the construction of a parking lot. The Vietnamese Law of Heritage allows for such excavation work, which will help experts gain a clearer picture about the king’s wife as well as the tomb itself, Bang said.

The Nguyễn Family committee, an organisation representing descendants of the Nguyễn Dynasty (1802-1945), and the investor of the parking lot, whose bulldozer razed the tomb, also want the exact location of the tomb so they can retrieve the bones and belongings of the king’s wife.

At the same time, the Huế Monuments Conservation Centre, the local body that manages all monuments related to the dynasty in Huế, said the text on the stone stele attached to the razed tomb is the same as that found on a worshipping plate in a temple designated for the king’s wives inside Tự Đức mausoleum. This is further validation that the razed structure was a royal tomb built for a king’s wife and that she was one of the wives of Tự Đức (ruling from 1847 to1883), the dynasty’s fourth king.

Earlier, when news broke that an ancient royal tomb had been bulldozed, the centre’s director Phan Thanh Hải had denied the claim. He contended that as per studies conducted by the centre’s staff, the site had two king’s wife tombs, and there was no third tomb of the king’s wife.

Nguyễn Dung, deputy chairman of the provincial People’s Committee, has requested local cultural authorities to submit a detailed report on the incident. The local Department of Culture and Sports and the Huế Monuments Conservation Centre are in charge of all information related to the tomb. Also, the People’s Committee of Huế City has been asked to submit a report on licensing construction of the parking lot.

The move comes amidst rising public anger over the desecration of the grave, a criminal act under Vietnamese law, and poor management of local heritage – the tomb was located in a protected area amidst the mausoleums of two late kings, Tự Đức and Đồng Khánh (1885-1889), and the tombs of other wives of King Tự Đức.

In defence, the investor of the parking lot said they had been given a “clean site” for bulldozing, and as bushes covered the tomb, the driver did not see it. However, a resident living nearby is said to have tried to stop the driver from razing the tomb, but was ignored. Meanwhile, local authorities are denying that they had granted permission to bulldoze the site.

Locals in Huế suspect that it is a scheme by local cultural authorities and the investor to clear the space and build a parking lot. The proposed parking lot is 17,000sq.m wide, with an estimated capacity to hold 100 cars and 120 motorbikes. The company has also razed a hill for construction work.

King Tự Đức had 104 wives. The woman buried in the bulldozed tomb is believed to be among wives of the 9th rank of the emperor. — VNS

View at a corner inside Tự Đức Mausoleum, where worshiping plate of the women buried in the razed tomb is placed. — VNS Photo Huê Phong

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