My Son Sanctuary, an ancient Unesco World Heritage Site is located in the central part of Vietnam and amongst the mountains in a geological basin of the Quang Nam province about 70km southwest of Danang City and 40km from Hoi An City

In the fourth century, King Bhadravaman had the first temple constructed for sacrificial rites and memorial services. This temple was made of wood and dedicated to Shiva’s Linga, the oldest known linga in Southeast Asia. Between the seventh and eighth centuries, successive kings built religious structures in My Son, devoting the valley to their gods. Tower temples were erected in memory of victories and great conquests. Kings’ tombs were built here so that their souls could join Hindu deities in eternity, especially Shiva the Almighty, who was regarded as the founder of the Champa Kingdom.

My Son features outstanding temple towers representative of Champa architectural arts

After centuries of construction and rituals, My Son emerged as an extremely important religious hub of the Champa Kingdom. It features outstanding temple towers representative of Champa architectural arts and boasts historical, cultural and artistic value.

In 1895, My Son was rediscovered by the French after five centuries of being forgotten. French scientists found 70 temples and spent four years doing research, which laid the foundation for the site’s eventual restoration and maintenance. In 1904, French scientists completed initial surveys to undertake the restoration of the temple groups A and A In the same year, the Far East Archeological Institute released images of My Son to the world. This triggered scientific curiosity worldwide.

Unfortunately, B52 bombing raids in October 1969 and 1972 devastated My Son and its surroundings. Bombardments left the site in ruins. Most of the 20-odd remnants were gathered in groups B, C and D.

After the war, various cooperative projects aimed to maintain and restore My Son, including a big Vietnam-Poland project to restore groups B, C and D. Mr. Kazimiers Kwiatkowski, a talented architect who devoted his passion to heritage and spent 13 years seeking ways to restore My Son, once said: “The ancient Champa people entrusted their soul to rocks, and managed to rely on nature to erect a glorious, magnificent and divine My Son. It’s an invaluable treasure of architecture and sculpture of humanity that will take a great deal of time to thoroughly grasp.”

My Son is on par with other wonders in the region and the world thanks. Its globally significant and unique values resulted in its recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Scientists and art researchers agree that My Son is like a slow-motion film showing a glorious past civilisation with unrivalled art and architecture. Until now, scientists remain unsure as to how Champa bricks were joined without using plaster. Theories abound, including the assumption that these ancient people used some organic substance to hold the bricks together.

Most relief swathes in My Son’s temples were exquisitely and meticulously chiseled with reliefs of deities, priests, animals, plants and images of nature. Nature, the universe and humans were shown in harmonious contact. Visitors are surprised to learn that golden proportions of math and physics apply to every single wall and corner, which in turn gave the architecture a flexible, symmetrical, yet not rigid structure. My Son arts reveal phases of development of Champa’s arts, and serve as physical examples of the creative and serious hard work of our ancestors.

Lying 10km east of My Son is the former site of Simphapura (now Tra Kieu), which translates as “the City of Lions”. This was the political, economic, cultural and power capital of the Champa Kingdom. From this capital, pilgrimages were made to My Son. Researchers are still unsure whether ancient people reached the valley by road or by water. Every pilgrimage was meant to demonstrate faith in overcoming hardships and dangers.

Today, My Son reveals the significant values of Champa culture. My Son and its majestic surroundings of valley, mountains and streams deserve to be remembered and admired.

The communal temple is a cornerstone of each Vietnamese community. A line in an old song states: “Going through the communal temple, I remove my hat to look at it. The temple has as many tiles as I have ways to love you.”

According to ancient beliefs of feng sui, the placement of the communal temple was very important. If it was misplaced, the villagers would suffer from swollen eyes. Even the trees in the temple’s yard were chosen with care. Trees with large leafy canopies, such as banyans, were the best. The communal temple had straight pillars and a curved roof. The interior carvings were very important, as these designs depicted the philosophy, values and lifestyle of the local community.

From the book Dai Viet Su Ky, we know that communal temples existed as far back as the Tran dynasty. At that time, the temple also served as a guest house. Carvings appeared during the Le dynasty. By the reign of King Le Hy Tong at the end of 17th century, communal temples were built in every single village. Wood carving reached a peak at that time. The 17th century was a golden age for Vietnam’s traditional arts.

The 17th century was a gold age for Vietnam’s traditional arts, including wood carving

At that time, King Le and the Trinh Lords were fighting for power. Some regions were set free. Dragon motifs representing the king spread from palaces to the rural areas, where they were depicted as wood carvings. People associated dragons with their daily lives. For instance, dragons are shown spraying water in Chem temple. Many motifs show dragons and fairies. The image of a fairy riding a dragon is popular. What began as a symbol of the supremely powerful Son of God spread to the common people. Many god characters are shown riding dragons. An old man and some girls ride a dragon in Tho Ha Temple.

Other images show dragons among regular people. Dragons are shown watching village boys teasing girls, or watching a mandarin drinking wine. Some images are explicit. A nude girl lies on the beard of a dragon. In the Phu Lao communal temple a dragon is shown watching a couple having sex.

Wood carvings from the 17th century are very lifelike, and depict many aspects of life, including sexuality.
We can see a carved scene of an intertwined naked couple; and a scene of a Western man putting his hands on a girl’s chest in Duong Lieu Communal Temple, Hanoi. A carving in Phu Lao Temple, Lang Giang, Bac Giang depicts a woman lying on her back with her dress rolled up and her legs around a man’s back. Similar images are found in Ngo Noi Temple, Yen Phong. A carving in Tay Dang Communal Temple, Ba Vi, Hanoi, shows a girl sitting on her heels, combing her hair, between two imposing mandarins with pyramid hats and long tunics. One mandarin is touching the girl’s thigh. These motifs of men and women expressed people’s hopes that their crops would multiply like humans. This link between crops and human reproduction dates back to the Dong Son culture.

Wood carvings on communal temples influenced images portrayed on other materials such as terra-cotta and stone, and the carvings in pagodas and other temples. On a brick in Sau Gia Temple, Hoai Due, Hanoi, there is an image of three naked girls bathing in a lotus pond. In De Tam Temple, Nam Dinh, there is another image of three naked girls. One girl uses a lotus leaf to cover her lower body, while a man holds her hand and cups her breast. In Dong Vien Temple, Ba Vi, Hanoi, there is an image of four naked girls, including one with an emphasized clitoris. Here again, a man is shown touching a girl’s breast.

Besides sexuality, carvings in communal temples depict many traditional activities, as well as animals, flowers and trees. Looking at these wooden carvings, we can feel three-dimensional space, and appreciate the artisans’ skillful use of shadow and light. With their stylized style, symmetry and lack of perspective these carvings remind us of traditional folk paintings.

Historical accounts reveal that in 1888, after Vietnam’s feudal regime ceded Hanoi, which was no longer its capital, to the French as a concession land , the French president issued a plan for the city to be redesigned as a European city. Four years later, the French colonialists outlined a transport system in which local people could only transport wares by boat or upon their own shoulders. The use of horse carts were restricted to privileged French people.After Hanoi became a colonial city, downtown transportation was heavily reliant on Rickshaws (Cyclos) and TramsPulling a Rickshaw (Cyclo) was so grueling that it laid bare the social chasm between the haves and the Haves-not, the Natives and the colonialistsIn 1884, the French envoy Bonnal, who was based on Hang Gai Street, imported two carts from Japan called “Jinrikisha”. Vietnamese people called these carts ‘‘rickshaw” or “hand-drawn carts” because they were pulled by a porter who ran in front and gripped the cart’s handles. The men pulling the carts were known as “rickshaw pullers” or, to Westerners, “coolies”.

Documents reveal that the envoy presented one of the first two rickshaws to a powerful missionary named Bishop Puginier. The other was used by the envoy and eventually passed to a local envoy to study its manufacture. The French anticipated that once the city was modelled after a Western city with cobbled roads and later asphalt, demand for downtown transport would rocket.