War-shattered Cham tower rebuilt from ruins
|Giant jigsaw: Vinh observes workers paving flagstones which connected tower G1 with G2. — VNA/VNS All Photos Huynh Van My
by Huynh Van My
After more than 10 years of work, restoration workers at My Son Sanctuary in central Quang Nam province's Duy Xuyen District recently opened a war-shattered Cham tower to the public.
Visitors are said to be literally taking their hats off to the meticulous and skilful craftsmanship by experts and workers conducting the restoration.
Many of the workers are local farmers and architects. They were shown the restoration techniques and quickly bonded with the ancient relics.
Using a combination of new and old bricks, the prime Cham building material, the stone Hindu images in the once crumbling temple are now said to glow in the soft harmony of the baked orange bricks.
Work on the tower, known as "G", was supervised collaboratively by experts from UNESCO, the Italian Heritage Preservation Institute, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, and the provincial People's Committee.
|Piecing it together: Dr P. Zolese and workers remove stone building components taken from their excavation of G tower.
Head of archaeological work Patrizia Zolese said thousands of square metres had been excavated in the area of G tower and a part of E tower. A huge amount of bricks and soil were also removed.
Also involved in supervising the project are Dr Mauro Cucarzi, Dr Patrizia Zolese and senior preservation architect Mara Landoni
Dozens of workers selected from communes next to the My Son Sanctuary have now become experienced in both archaeological excavation and Cham temple tower restoration.
Forty-six-year-old worker Vo Van Sau said only trowels and spades were used. "We had to gently hold and number each damaged object. Although it was a hard and meticulous work, led by archaeologist Zolese, we excavated soil to a depth of more than a metre in 2,000 square metres."
The task required workers to squat for hours, but they became so engrossed in the majesty of the project, that they did not find it tedious.
"Zolese knew of the significance of all the objects unearthed, which encouraged us to work harder and more enthusiastically," another worker said.
The Cham builders did not appear to use mortar in their brick towers, but some sort of oil. Fifty-year-old worker Nguyen Van Nam said that after research, the experts found resin from a tree called dau rai surrounding the My Son Sanctuary had great similarities to the agglutinative substance which the Cham people used.
"So, to stick bricks together, the experts asked us to spread the resin on bricks and grind them together. As far as I know, cold dau rai doesn't work. The resin should be boiled. Therefore, we suggested that the experts boil the sticky substance."
|Focused on the job: Vinh has maintained a watchful eye over the entire intricate process.
The more they worked, the more they discovered the Cham people's way of doing things. Forty-year-old Vo Van Hai said they discovered that the Cham people used rubble in some of the tower detailings.
"We also smashed bricks to pieces or crushed them down by hand. Later, we were provided with a pulverizing machine, however, the rubble was too smooth so we went back to doing things by hand. This made us feel we were closer to the old Cham people," Hai added. "Contributing to the tower restoration in our home town makes us feel so proud," Hai said.
To Chi Vinh is one of several architects who have become attached to the My Son Sanctuary to learn relic restoration and preservation. In collaboration with the Italian experts, Vinh helped supervise the workers on both towers.
"I was so lucky when being selected to become architect Dang Khanh Ngoc's assistant. I also had chances to learn from foreign experts and practice on the scene," Vinh said.
He left a large-scale construction company to return to his home town, 10km from the My Son Sanctuary, so that he could contribute to the restoration.
The experience will be worth it. According to architect Ngoc, Viet Nam has no universities to provide knowledge and techniques for restoring ancient buildings. Therefore, the tower has unintentionally become a school for historic structure preservation.
The restoration team has also been sent to help restore the Cham towers in other provinces, including the Binh Lam tower in neighbouring Binh Dinh province. — VNS