My Son

My Son was almost entirely destroyed during the Vietnam War, and the last remaining twenty monuments standing represent the oldest continuous religious occupation in Southeast Asia.

Where We Work

The surviving temples of My Son Sanctuary stun even the most jaded viewer. Skilled carvers came to My Son Sanctuary between the 8th and 10th centuries AD to create some of the most detailed carved brickwork and stonework to be seen anywhere in the world. Hundreds of years later, exceptionally fine bas-reliefs still stand in the sanctuary.

History

My Son Sanctuary is one of Vietnam’s only archaeological sites to be inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and was inhabited from the 4th- through the 15th centuries AD. Located in central Vietnam in one of the country’s least developed provinces, a large majority of My Son’s exquisite architecture was destroyed by aerial bombing during a single week of the Vietnam War.

My Son Sanctuary is perhaps the longest inhabited archaeological site in Indochina and was the royal burial and temple grounds for Vietnam’s first major civilization- the Champa Kingdom- which thrived between 400 and 1500 AD. Located in the central region of Vietnam in Quang Nam province about 50 km Southwest of the city of Da Nang, My Son Sanctuary is an assemblage of the largest and oldest ancient ruins in the country.

The Vietnamese government has recently created a “World Heritage Road.”  This newly developed route encompasses three UNESCO-designated World Heritage Sites including
My Son, the sixteenth century silk route trading harbor of Hoi An, and the ancient imperial city of Hue. The World Heritage Road will also become an extension of the East-West Corridor which connects Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar.

Threats

My Son’s major threats include unrepaired damage from the Vietnam War, illegal looting, deterioration from exposure, overall decay, and vegetation overgrowth.  Annual flooding during the rainy seasons has accelerated the deterioration at the site. The region’s poverty and the poor economic situation has left My Son neglected over the past hundred years.  As noted by the Institute for South-East Asian Studies, My Son represents the cultural, artistic, and historical heritage of Champa. This richness can be attributed to over 1000 years of continuous worshipping, building, and maintenance.

Seventy (70) impressively carved towers and temples were constructed at My Son Sanctuary between the 4th through the 15th centuries. A mere twenty (20) of these temples remain after the extensive damage caused during the Vietnam War. Adverse impacts of natural calamities, landmines and limited understanding of the Cham culture have hindered conservation activities at My Son Sanctuary. My Son Sanctuary is in urgent need of support for conservation and stabilization as critical structures and monuments are collapsing.

Though most of the intricate stucco sculptures and building interiors and exteriors have been lost in the course of centuries, most temples still show elaborate carved brickwork. Long exposure to atmospheric conditions has caused splits that have given plants the opportunity to establish strong root systems which must be carefully removed. These roots are producing deep cracks and often the collapse of complete walls. Mosses and lichens have set upon the decorations in stone, provoking erosion of the figurative parts.

My Son’s endangered temples are in critical need of conservation and stabilization to save the last remnants of this once great sanctuary.  There is a strong need for training and support to bring Vietnamese conservation and heritage management teams up to world-class standards.

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What We Do

Almost entirely destroyed by bombing during the Vietnam War, My Son is in critical need of conservation and stabilization to save the last remnants of this once great sanctuary.  To address this need, GHF worked with a private institutions and governmental bodies to provide support for urgently needed stabilization, archaeological documentation, planning, site conservation and training to help save the last remaining temples of My Son Sanctuary, Vietnam.

Planning

A detailed topographic map of the entire site was produced helping to plan for zoning identifying the protected area, buffer zone and land-mined areas. Then mapping of all the buildings was done in the surveyed area. Campaigns of geophysical prospect have been carried-out to localize buried remains and dig-up trial trenches to work out the sequence, on behalf of a more correct chronology.  Topographic surveying meter by meter with a total station to reconstruct the shape of the hill and install the topographic grid were undertaken.  The team also conducted photographic and drawing documentation of the numerous archaeological and architectural objects scattered in the area.

Conservation Science

Conservation efforts at My Son were focused on the scientific conservation of the most endangered monuments of Group E (especially E7, the Library) and Group G, as well as providing an intensive training program for on-site Vietnamese conservators and archaeologists.

Geophysical prospecting and geomorphologic investigations were carried out on buildings in the E group, which had no previous recording.  GHF supported important repair and restoration works, including wall and drainage repairs.  Temple E7, one of the few remaining, standing temples was on the verge of collapse before GHF conducted vital stabilization initiatives.  TSL (Thermally Stimulated Luminescent) dating was done on pottery and
bricks.

Important features of the structure were discovered after the archaeological excavation on the foundation of the enclosing wall in the northern sector of the investigated area.  The team sorted the scattered bricks from E7 monument for future re-use during the consolidation and restoration works.  The conservation of the laterite enclosing wall started with the cleaning of the wall surfaces and survey of the internal filling, followed by the removal of tree roots, reconstruction of the foundation and the consolidation of the walls, using old bricks and lime and brick mortar.

Community Development

During the three year project, careful attention was given to the training of the Vietnamese personnel. In fact, Vietnamese workers were mainly farmers without any experience in archaeological or conservation work. After this period, the workers, as well as the national officers, technicians and local staff dramatically improved their skills. The Vietnamese archaeologists, architects, geologists, geophysicists, surveyors, draftsmen and other workers acquired new knowledge regarding international standards of conservation.

GHF established a formal two-year education and outreach program for Vietnam’s World Heritage in Young Hands program at selected schools in Hoi An Ancient Town near My Son and in Quang Nam Province that were visited by over 900 Grand Circle Travel customers on their tours in 2005. The goals of this program is to increase awareness of the importance of World Heritage for the younger generation and their parents, and to educate local peoples as to the problems facing conservation and its potential to bring economic and cultural benefits to the surrounding communities and the nation as a whole. To this end GHF has hired one full time Vietnamese Program Manager for a two year period to implement the project’s activities related to education and outreach components in close cooperation with the UNESCO Vietnamese National Commission.

We have prepared to publish 1,000 Student Handbooks on Vietnam UNESCO natural and cultural World Heritage in Vietnamese / English and to distribute these handbooks to 40 schools in Hue and Hoi areas, as well as provide a two hour orientation for the use of the handbook at each of the 40 schools.  At each school, we are carrying out two teacher training workshop, training at least one teacher from each of the 40 schools identified and, in close cooperation with the My Son site administration, we are coordinating site visits of local schools presenting the World Heritage education and outreach and presenting on World Heritage and World Heritage in Vietnam (Hue, Hoi An, etc.).

Partnerships

  • Danang Province Cultural Heritage Committee
  • Lerici Institute of the Lerici Foundation
  • Quang Nam Provincial People’s Committee Centre for Conservation of Heritage and Monuments
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Why It's Important

My Son was once a veritable forest of towers, many of which were destroyed by the ravages of time and war. This unique site is now in a state of significant disrepair, urgently requiring conservation efforts.

Accomplishments

  • The preparation of a Master Conservation Plan for the extant archaeological features
  • Conservation of Temple E7 (the Library)
  • Additional conservation of structures in Groups E and G
  • Conservation training for Vietnamese workers
  • Support for the Vietnam World Heritage in Young Hands Program

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