Hanoi

Thanh Nien

Scientists from all around the world gathered in Hanoi this week to discuss the best way to preserve the Thang Long Royal Citadel, the political, cultural and trade center of Vietnam for 1,300 years.

Visitors to the Thang Long Royal Citadel site examine an ancient well uncovered by archeologists

Archeologists have been excavating the citadel, in Hanoi’s Ba Dinh District, for around six years. They have uncovered structures and artifacts dating back to between the seventh and 18th centuries.

The two-day international conference, which began on Monday, gathered scientists who had worked at the site, including academics from Holland, Belgium, Japan, China, Chinese Taiwan and Vietnam.

Hanoi citadel

Since 2003, significant progress had been made on uncovering and identifying some of the ruins and relics at the site, Vietnam Archeology Institute Director Tong Trung Tin said.

Many ruins at the 20,000-squaremeter site showed a continuation between the various dynasties that ruled Hanoi during the capital’s history, he said.

Scientists had also gained many insights into the culture and lifestyle of ancient Hanoians, Tin said.

Artifacts, including pottery from China, Japan and West Asia, illustrate the extensive trading network of ancient Hanoi.

Archeologists now had the more difficult task of identifying the remainder of the structures and artifacts they had uncovered, Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences President Do Hoai Nam said.

Scientists have not concluded whether some structures are walls, roads or part of the ancient palace. Some structures were described as having “many rooms” but the actual number of rooms was not clear.

Highlighting the imprecise nature of the identification process, many Vietnamese archaeologists at the conference were confused when Japanese professor Ueno Kunikazu said what appeared to be part of a road was actually a wall.

The uncertainty over the identification of the ruins means no plan for further excavation or preservation has been drawn up.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has authorized the Vietnam UNESCO Committee and the Hanoi People’s Committee to apply to UNESCO to have the citadel declared a World Heritage site.

Luu Tran Tieu, chairman of the National Council for Cultural Heritage, said people were generally not aware of the obligations to protect an historical site after it was given world heritage status.

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UNESCO supervises the preservation work of world heritage-listed sites and required reports from the countries every year, Tieu said, noting that a world heritage site can be “stripped of its title if it is no longer deserved.”

Tieu said Hue had complained that many construction projects had hidden the ancient town’s charm while Ha Long Town complained about pollution in the bay.

The Archaeology Institute’s Tien admitted that preserving and protecting the Thang Long royal citadel was “a big challenge.”

The site was at risk of erosion, especially after the heavy flooding in Hanoi early this month, he said.

Experts from the French School of the Far East Studies (EFEO) and South Korea’s Preservation Society for Gyeongju Cultural Heritage have indicated they would like to work with Vietnamese scientists to study and preserve the Thang Long site.

EFEO’s Oliver Tessier suggested recreating the citadel using computer-generated imagery and building two museums on the site, one open to the public and the other to studies on precious relics.

But Belgium’s Jean Plumier said museums may not be the best way to preserve the site.

According to Pham Sanh Chau, former Vietnamese ambassador to UNESCO and general secretary of Vietnam UNESCO Committee, Thang Long royal citadel has high historic value, even though it is not as big or well-preserved as other archeological sites.

What made the citadel special was it was Vietnam’s political, economic and cultural center for 1,300 years, EFEO’s representative said.