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Excavation sheds light into VN history

Update: December, 01/2014 - 15:53
Monumental: The excavation site has attracted a lot of visitors, both locals and foreigners. — VNS Photos Doan Tung

Experts highlight the necessity of preserving an ancient monument that represented a claim for Vietnamese independence. Trung Hieu reports.

An ancient spiritual monument was found at a site where the new Parliament House in Ha Noi is being constructed.

In response, the Viet Nam Academy of Social Sciences has asked Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to maintain the status quo and retain and preserve the monument within an area measuring no less than 400sq.m.

The Academy has reported to the Prime Minister the date, name, value and proposed preservation of this special heritage from the early 11th century Ly dynasty.

The monument was found in an archaeological excavation site near Ba Dinh Hall, inside the area of ancient Thang Long Citadel, the imperial city of Viet Nam during feudal times.

Half a month ago, the Archaeological Institute under the Academy had to raise the alarm for fear that ongoing construction at the site could harm the monument.

In its report to the Prime Minister, the academy said the Ly dynasty used the monument as a place to offer sacrifices to Heaven and Earth.

The report affirmed that the relic was one of the most important ritual sites of an Asian monarchy under an Emperor who receives orders from Heaven to develop and pray for the longevity of the country.

"In the context of Eastern society at that time, China considered themselves as 'Heaven's Dynasty' and believed that they were the only ones with the place to worship Heaven. So the spiritual heritage of our Ly Dynasty reflects the high spirit of independence, self-control and self-improvement of Dai Viet (Viet Nam today)," the report added.

Ancient relics: Visitors flock to see the items found at the site.

"The place of the Ly dynasty for offering sacrifices to Heaven and Earth has the general definition of the spiritual heritage of the East, but also has unique Vietnamese features. Therefore, it manifests the cultural identity of our country," the report noted.

"If its status quo is preserved and its values promoted, the relic will have a great impact on the promotion of the traditional culture of Viet Nam among the public and international friends," the report added.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism also asked the Ha Noi People's Committee to co-ordinate with the management board of the company constructing the new Parliament House and with the Archaeological Institute to find ways to preserve the relic.

In early 2014, during the construction of the tunnels and underground car park for the Parliament House, the relic was discovered deep in the soil, within the Ly architectural layer.

Associate Professor Tong Trung Tin, head of the Archaeological Institute, explained that it was possible the monument was a special type of architecture related to the spiritual rituals of the Ly dynasty inside the Thang Long Imperial Citadel.

"With the presence of the wooden leaves carved with dragons buried inside the site, we think this architecture involves an important Buddhist ritual of the Ly dynasty," he said.

How to preserve it?

According to historian Nguyen Quang Ngoc, an associate professor, chairman of the Ha Noi History Association and vice chairman of the Viet Nam History Science Association, the integrity of this relic from the early 11th century proved that it was absolutely respected during its time.

Layers of history: The excavation site is near the new Parliament House. — Photos

At a recent international seminar that included the relic in its discussions, Professor Ueno Kunikazu of the University of Nara in Japan assumed that the monument was the place where the King "received orders from Heaven".

Ngoc pointed out the possibility that the monument was the platform where sacrifices to Heaven and Earth were offered and it was quickly built and used in the early years when Emperor Ly Thai To, the first king of the Ly dynasty, had just settled in the capital Thang Long (Ha Noi today).

"At that time, the country still didn't have Nam Giao platform (for worshiping Heaven) and Xa Tac platform (for worshiping Earth). Xa Tac was just built by King Ly Thai Tong in 1048 while Nam Giao was built around 1152," Ngoc explained.

"The relic's sacred and great values proved that our ancestors' spirit of independence and self-esteem was quite high," he said.

"Because of the Dai Han (Chinese, literally "Great Han") belief that only they had the right to receive orders from Heaven, other neighbouring countries were not allowed to build such places. When Japan built a place to offer sacrifices to Heaven, they had to abandon it. Before the 18th century, Korea was also not allowed to build such places," the associate professor added.

During the discovery process, the Prime Minister asked the scientists to conduct timely research and work out conservation measures.

At the workshop held at the site and at international scientific conferences, all scientific experts agreed to ask the Prime Minister to approve the proposal to maintain the status quo and preserve the architecture.

The Institute of Archaeology proposed an initial conservation plan involving 3D scanning to record the site in images.

According to the proposal, in the first stage, the site will be temporarily filled with sand and soil for conservation following the scientific process.

In the second stage, the relic will be reconstructed on the ground following Japan's method.

Afterwards, the relic will be connected with other architectural structures in the former ancient Thang Long citadel to recreate a complete architecture complex of the Ly dynasty palaces.


Platform to Heaven: The centre of the excavation site, believed to be where the platform to offer sacrifices to Heaven was located.

Special architecture

Numerous researchers who have evaluated the spiritual and historical architecture believe that it is quite special.

Ngoc said that when the relic had just been excavated, scientists did not know how to name it.

"In Viet Nam and in any place in the world, no relic has been unearthed that is like this. Our scientists invited foreign experts to examine it. Some said it was the remains of a lotus tower.

"We have researched in numerous books and documents but none of them mentions this spiritual area. But by studying the 'Royal Proclamation to Move the Capital' of King Ly Thai To, the first King of the Ly dynasty, we found that the first thing the King did when he settled down in the new capital here was to build a spiritual site for worshipping Heaven to wish for peace and prosperity," Ngoc explained.

After much controversy over the relic's name, scientists finally agreed to call the site "the platform for offerring sacrifices to Heaven and Earth".

"It existed from 1010 to 1048. By 1048, King Ly Thanh Tong built Xa Tac to offer sacrifices to the God of the Earth and the God of Agriculture, both associated with wet rice civilisation. That place replaced the one built before," the associate professor said.

"Initially, we can evaluate that type of architecture as particularly relevant to the special spiritual ceremonies of the Ly dynasty," he explained.

"Perhaps this was the centre of ancient Thang Long Citadel. With wooden leaves carved with dragon images buried inside the site, we infer that this architecture involved an important Buddhist ritual of the Ly dynasty."

"The site is located opposite the Kinh Thien Palace, so it may relate to the overall planning of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long," Ngoc noted, adding that the entire structure was made of wood.

"The material belongs to a group of precious trees, so much of the timber did not rot. We found that the bamboo strings binding the timbers were still intact," he added.

After discovering the monument, researchers at home and abroad evaluated its value and proposed conservation plans.

"This is a special monument that has great cultural value. Therefore, many conservation proposals were given. The Archaeological Institute conducted numerous workshops to assess its value and propose conservation plans," said Nguyen Van Son, director of the Thang Long-Ha Noi Heritage Conservation Centre.

"The Viet Nam Academy of Social Sciences, in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Ha Noi People's Committee reported to the Prime Minister on its value and conservation plans. We are waiting for the Prime Minister's guidance to unify approaches to conservation," added Son. — VNS

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