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‘Restorers’ lay waste to ancient pagoda

HA NOI— So-called restoration workers have almost destroyed a 500-year-old pagoda on the southern outskirts of Ha Noi.

Bungled job: Old wooden beams with valuable carving have been knocked down and piled up in the pagoda's yard.
Bungled job: Old wooden beams with valuable carving have been knocked down and piled up in the pagoda’s yard.

Work on the 16th-century-pagoda has been called to a halt while experts inspect the piles of old pillars, beams and carvings.

The Ha Noi Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism on Thursday told local authorities not to continue with the work until proper measures are taken to protect the site, which was declared a national relic in 1986.

The department also ordered pagoda authorities to tear down a newly-built six-sided pavilion erected on the site.

So Pagoda in Tan Uoc Commune of Thanh Oai District was built in 1527 under Mac reign.

An inspection revealed that most of it has been demolished “to prepare for renovations”. This has led to the smashing of most of the old tiles and tearing down the main building.

All ancient objects for worship, including statues, have been left insecure in the pagoda grounds and authorities fear they may be stolen.

When experts from Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism visited the site earlier this week, the whole old pagoda was found to be a ruin.

There were broken tiles all over the floors, pagoda walls had been pulled down to enable workers to carry building materials around the site.

Ruination: When experts from Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism visited the site earlier this week, the old pagoda was found in ruins.

Old wooden pillars with valuable carving patterns had been knocked down and piled up in the pagoda yard.

“It will be extremely difficult to restore the old pillars,” Nguyen Duc Binh, an official from the culture ministry’s Department of Fine Arts, Photography and Exhibition, told Viet Nam News.

Binh said the “renovation work” violated the Law of Heritage and other regulations.

“In the plan submitted to the Ministry of Culture, the bidder committed to make a temporary roof covering the site during renovation to protect the wooden pillars. But in fact, they did nothing,” Binh said.

“The rain and sun will destroy what is left before the renovation completed.”

According to Binh, the old pagoda only needed repairing. This included replacing old tiles, rebuilding crumbling walls and restoring or replacing wooden pillars eaten by worms.

“But the upgrading tasks required more time and more labour than knocking the entire building down and rebuilding it,” he said, “Unfortunately, they choose the fast and profitable way.”

Nguyen Minh Khang, an expert from the ministry’s Heritage Department, said the so-called renovation violated all regulations.

“Before they removed the roof, they should have protected the timber floor and building foundations so that falling tiles would not have damaged them,” he said.

He added that all the wooden pillars should have been classified and numbered scientifically and kept in a good condition, rather than being piled up in the open air.

Experts are also worried that ancient statues and carved and lacquered boards that once used to be hung in the pagoda have been stored in a small room without any proper security.

Chairman of Tan Uoc Commune People’s Committee, Nguyen Duc Toan, said local authorities had made pagoda monks responsible for the old objects.

So Pagoda, which has also been known as Hoi Lim Quan, was renovated and enlarged in 1634 and 1901. It was recognised as a national relic site in 1986.

The pagoda represents the high architecture of the 17th century, said Tran Lam Bien, a noted expert on ancient arts.

He said bricks carved with images of dragon, ki lin (rhinocerous), tortoises and phoenix were rare and valued pieces of fine art, reflecting the tastes of the day.

Bien said his feelings turned to hatred when he saw roof tiles of the pagoda broken on the floor.

“The cultural sector should properly train renovation workers to enhance their awareness on ancient culture and heritage,” he said.