Restoration of Vietnam’s Historical Structures Draws Disappointment

Apart from the initial doubts about how costly the restoration of Kim Lien Temple in Hanoi turned out to be, more disappointments are pouring in from historians and concerned sectors about how the entire project was carried out. To begin with, VND36 billion (approximately US$1.8 million) was spent on trying to preserve this historical relic. With the amount, and with the importance of the structure, it is seen as one of the massive restoration efforts undertaken in Hanoi. Several delays and inconsistencies were noted while the project was underway, all pointing fingers to the unmotivated approach of those tasked to rebuild the temple. It was given more regard to ensure the building is ready on the city’s thousand year anniversary, only to have it finished just two weeks before the big celebration.

According to critics, the restoration turned out to be a huge waste of money and did more harm than good. The project’s contractor and investor demolished the original gate of the temple to build an entirely new one which unseats the essence of restoration in the first place. The original gate consisted of two pillars decorated with traditional artistic patterns and had been designed in relative proportion to the temple. But they have transformed the entrance into a massive barrier complete with five heavy wooden doors, losing the temple tradition of keeping the pillars low and open to visitors.

The enormous structure now dwarfs the modest temple inside it. Many other blunders were seen. The design, of which was deemed as among the most important aspects of any historical relic was disregarded. The temple’s original architect had reserved the sacred image of rong chau mat nguyet at the apex of the temple roof. On the new gate, they now sit above its doors. Many do not clearly understand why the restoration project was even started. The moves literally destroyed the site’s historical value and lost a lot of money alongside.

More Relics Suffering from Restoration Blunders

Previous restoration efforts further strengthened the critics’ claim on the contractors’ major errors. Such projects include the demolition of two ancient towers in the garden of the Tran Quoc Pagoda. The original temple at Tran Quoc was constructed in the sixth century during the reign Emperor Ly Nam De (503-548) on an islet in Hanoi’s West Lake. They were replaced by an 11-story monolith which stands taller than every other temple in the capital.

Another damning example is the work to restore the eight Bodhisattva statues at the Huu Bang Pagoda which dates back from the 17th century. Before contractors began on the project, the holy figures had beautiful, natural colors. Now, they are repainted with new colors and gold trim, making them look artificial and modern. The new pain had also masked the natural beauty of the relics and making it difficult to determine its age and authenticity.

Some restoration teams have gone one step further, employing entirely new construction materials in their restoration projects. In a horrifying restoration gone wrong, the team turned the wooden Bach Bridge in Thanh Hoa Province to stone while a number of Le Dynasty’s structures have been “restored” using totally different materials. Recently, a half-million dollar restoration project, of the 418-yearold Mac Citadel came out looking like a new brick-kiln “decorated” with a fence made of iron and stainless steel.

Gauging Restoration Efforts

Concerned sectors agree that the obvious blunders now marking some of the country’s most important historical structures are due to total lack of cultural and historical sensitivity by those undertaking the project. The main essence of a restoration work should seek to preserve an object’s original design. Remodeling, which these contractors have done, is not at all along the main restoration intention.

Skills, experience and knowledge is another major factor that brought about the irony. The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism was tasked to oversee the project, yet, didn’t know anything about the blunder until their attention were called. Because of such, many are losing confidence in the ministry’s ability to supervise effective preservation work.

Legitimate restoration efforts often cost more time and money than demolition and re-construction and such undertaking are highly susceptible to errors. Proper understanding of history and culture; budget (including time and money) and the choice of contractors to work on the project are all critical aspects to consider which nothing should be given less importance.