Sacred soul of an ANCIENT NATION

Lam Kinh, a site of major historical interest just a few hours south of Hanoi, has been recently restored.

By THUY DUONG on August 11,2019 10:17 AM

Sacred soul of an ANCIENT NATION

PHOTOS JESSICA DUONG

The recently-restored Lam Kinh historical site in Tho Xuan district, north-central Thanh Hoa province, some four hours south of Hanoi, provides a closer look at a significant period of Vietnam’s illustrious history. The ten-year resistance by Lam son insurgents against the Ming invaders from the north, between 1418 and 1427, opened up a long and prosperous period of autonomy in the country’s feudal history, stretching 360 years.

The history of the Lam Kinh historical site dates back to 1428, when Le Loi (1385- 1433) - the successful leader of the ten-year resistance war against the Ming Court from China - was crowned emperor and given the royal name Le Thai To.

With a capital at Dong Kinh Citadel (in modern-day Hanoi), the emperor also built another palace in his homeland Thanh Hoa, where the Lam son uprising began, called Lam Kinh (also known as Tay Kinh), which is 50 km to the west of what is now Thanh Hoa city.

Located on 200 ha in a valley of ancient iron-wood forest, three sides of Lam Kinh are surrounded by the Dau, Chua, and Huong mountains and one side by the Chu River. Noon Gate, Imperial Tombs, Lam Kinh Palace, Dragon Courtyard and Worshiping Temple - smaller relics at Lam Kinh - arranged along an axis from north to south, creating a Chinese character meaning “The King”.

Lam Kinh historical site is a center for worshiping
the emperors of the Le Dynasty. It was among the
largest worshiping centers in Vietnam (and possibly
in Southeast Asia) during the thousand years of
Vietnamese autonomy.
It is also the eternal resting place of six emperors:
Le Thai To, Le Thai Tong, Le Nhan Tong, Le Thanh
Tong, Le Hien Tong and Le Tuc Tong, as well as two
mother queens: Ngo Thi Ngoc Giao and Nguyen Thi
Ngoc Huyen, and a princess, Thuy Hoa.
The Lam Kinh Festival was first held after the death
of Emperor Le Thai To in 1433. Today, on the 21st
day, the death anniversary of Le Lai, who was at Le
Thai To’s side during the Ming invasion and gave his
life for the emperor, and the 22nd day, which is Le
Thai To’s death anniversary, of the eighth lunar
month, people in the region hold the Lam Kinh Festival
to commemorate their ancestors as well as the
victory of the Lam Son revolt.

Lam Kinh historical site is a center for worshiping the emperors of the Le Dynasty. It was among the largest worshiping centers in Vietnam (and possibly in Southeast Asia) during the thousand years of Vietnamese autonomy.

It is also the eternal resting place of six emperors: Le Thai To, Le Thai Tong, Le Nhan Tong, Le Thanh Tong, Le Hien Tong and Le Tuc Tong, as well as two mother queens: Ngo Thi Ngoc Giao and Nguyen Thi Ngoc Huyen, and a princess, Thuy Hoa.

The Lam Kinh Festival was first held after the death of Emperor Le Thai To in 1433. Today, on the 21st day, the death anniversary of Le Lai, who was at Le Thai To’s side during the Ming invasion and gave his life for the emperor, and the 22nd day, which is Le Thai To’s death anniversary, of the eighth lunar month, people in the region hold the Lam Kinh Festival to commemorate their ancestors as well as the victory of the Lam Son revolt.

ELABORATE RESTORATION

In the 600 years since it was built, history and time saw Lam Kinh become ruins. In 1994, the Lam Kinh historical restoration project was officially approved by the government. The site has been gradually restored since 2010 and embellished with the construction of Bach Bridge, Imperial Tombs, Lam Kinh Palace, Noon Gate, and Dragon Courtyard. The reconstruction lasted seven years, and the Lam Kinh historical relic was officially opened in 2017.

With a total restored area of over 1,700 sq m, Lam Kinh Palace, or Main Palace, lost its 138 columns with the passing of time but all have been reset in their original footprint. A huge amount of wood was used, of over 2,000 cu m, to carve the 138 columns. The restored Lam Kinh Palace is considered the most magnificent in the history of Vietnamese wooden architecture.

Lam Kinh Palace is divided into three parts, all built from iron-wood. The first is Quang Duc Temple (where the emperor worshipped the ancestors), the second is sung Hieu Temple (where the emperor held court while at the palace), and the third is Dien Khanh Temple (where the emperor took rest). The best part of the palace, sung Hieu Temple, features a throne, behind which is a wooden carving of “Nine dragons kneeling in front of the Emperor”, while on the ceiling is a carving of the “mother” dragon. The carving on the ceiling, the mother dragon statue, and the thrones were all inlaid with gold leaf.

One interesting thing that few people may know is that during the process of Lam Kinh Palace being restored, a traditional Vietnamese ceramic kiln was built inside to produce the materials needed for the task. Decorative ceramics for its roof decorations were molded and baked in the kiln, and in order to make the thousands of different items needed, such as spearhead tiles, paving bricks, and large-sized bricks resembling specimens found in old Lam Kinh, artisans had to burn them on firewood and straw for over three years.

The Dong son-style bronze drum hanging in Lam Kinh Palace today was also cast inside the current Dragon Courtyard. The equipment used in the restoration is also now kept as an artifact for sightseeing tours or for later research.

Highlights for tourists to Lam Kinh Palace are newly-crafted interior décor items such as incense tables, a throne, an emperor’s table, and a sieve, as well as hundreds of other Le Dynasty artifacts inlaid with gold or silver or with jade attached. Together with bronze and porcelain items unearthed under ancient Lam Kinh Palace, all of these objects help people today understand and visualize the daily life of the ancient emperors.

“Lam Kinh Palace’s restoration is the result of hard work for over seven years by more than 300 artisans and craftsmen who were involved in all stages, from architectural design to stone and wood sculpturing and painting,” according to the tour guide at the site. “The restoration was based entirely on 876 hand-drawn designs by experts and archaeologists.”

With a wish to revive the sacred spirit of a splendid monument where Emperor Le Thai To regularly returned to conduct ancestral ceremonies and rituals to pray for national safety, the guide went on, craftsmen were careful with every detail of the sculptures and architecture to replicate them as accurately as possible.

ETERNAL VALUABLE TREASURES

Sacred soul of an ANCIENT NATION

In order to go inside Lam Kinh Palace, visitors must step through Noon Gate, where two stone lions stand guard on either side. Going through the beautiful, sophisticatedly carved wooden doors, they will be amazed by the magnificent scenery before their eyes: steeped roof temples and sacred stone tombs located amid poetic scenery of mountains, rivers, and hundred- year-old trees.

Connecting the Dragon Courtyard and Lam Kinh Palace is nine-stories of “dragon shelves”, with a pair of beautifully carved stone dragons bearing the characteristic appearance of Le Dynasty dragons. Behind the Palace is Thai Mieu, or Worshiping Temple, in an arc shape. The Imperial Tombs feature eight tombs of the emperors, mother queens, and a princess, in which the tomb of Emperor Le Thai To lies in the central position.

The tombs of successive emperors, two mother queens, and a princess are in the east and west of the site, each with its own unique architecture.

Of eights steles on the Imperial Tombs, six are ancient steles and two are newly-restored. Three of the six originals have been recognized as national treasures, with the 600-year-old Vinh Lang stele being the most typical and showcasing the meticulous and elaborate sculpting techniques used in those days.

According to historical scripts, in the 8th month of the year of the Golden Buffalo (1433), soon after Emperor Le Thai To passed away in Dong Kinh Palace in modern-Hanoi, he was immediately taken back to his hometown and buried in his tomb, with the Vinh Lang stele erected on the site. The Vinh Lang stele was carved from a large blue stone block and placed on the back of a stone turtle. The front is decorated with dragon and chrysanthemum patterns. The words carved on the stele note the status, career, and merits of Emperor Le Thai To and the illustrious Lam son revolt. Vinh Lang is considered unique, not only an educational lesson for posterity but also a precious object showcasing the sculptures of folk artists during the Le Dynasty.

Not only bearing historical value, the Lam Kinh historical site also attracts tourists with its unique ecological landscape, with which no palace can compare. To the right of Dragon Courtyard, is a three-hundred-year-old “banyan-cumarbor” tree that is so large it requires ten people to fully embrace it. The tree is always green, shining as a witness to history, standing proudly forever and ever.

It’s unclear when the banyan tree was planted, but at some point it melded with the roots of an arbor tree to become a tree with two roots. Two kinds of fruit once grew on the trees, but the arbor tree has since died, leaving only the banyan tree.

In the left section of the Dragon Courtyard is an ancient well that is full year-round with clear and cool water and is considered the largest ancient well in the country.

Visitors to Lam Kinh historical site also have the opportunity to admire a 500-yearold “sui” tree in the southwest of Dragon Courtyard. These two trees - the “sui” and the “banyan-cum-arbor” trees, have already been designated Vietnamese Heritage Trees.

Next to the tomb of the two mother queens is a “laughing guava tree” that was planted in 1933. The tree is in a dragon shape and three meters high, with many branches radiating out in four directions. The tree’s trunk is curled in the shape of a dragon, with a large hump and moss at its foot. If people even lightly touch the trunk, its leaves shake strongly as if they are “laughing”. This unique guava tree grows very slowly but grows fruit year-round the size of a fingertip that is extremely fragrant and often picked and presented as an offering at the emperor’s grave.

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