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Can historic Hoi An thrive in the 21st century?

 VietNamNet Bridge – Hoi An has over 1,000 ancient houses, of which 107 are in need of urgent repair while 55 are seriously dilapidated.

VietNamNet Bridge – Hoi An has over 1,000 ancient houses, of which 107 are in need of urgent repair while 55 are seriously dilapidated.


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Strong roots: Hoi An is still a unique ancient town with many features that the local authorities want to preserve.

 

The Director of the Hoi An Culture and Sports Centre, Vo Phung, said that the town is a living legacy and each house is a heritage waiting to be restored, which should be acted upon according to the Heritage Law.

With so many ancient houses, Hoi An is obliged to spend a huge part of its annual budget on restoration work.

"The city issued the guideline, "preservation for development," and not exploit to develop, as Hoi An appreciates the value of conservation, along with the economic benefits," he said.

The values that Hoi An promotes are incalculable, however, to preserve every street corner, every house and the lifestyles of generations of people during the current era of integration is a difficult problem that has concerned the local authorities for some time.

Le Van Giang, chairman of the City People's Committee, said it is essential to protect the old town, as doing this will encourage the local people and especially the owners of the old houses, to preserve and protect the value of their properties.

Therefore, the city has issued very strict regulations on management, conservation and the use of ancient houses, consistent with the needs of the local population, to ensure harmony amongst the residents.

On that basis, the city has also set up a profile for each of the old houses, and has prioritised financial support for restoration work and repairing old houses at risk of collapsing.

In such cases, if an owner wants to sell their old house, they must return the funding that the State spent on the restoration work.

Le Van Giang said that conserving and developing Hoi An ancient town, was not just an architectural issue, as any work has to be closely related to the intangible cultural space that has been created in the ancient town, which is extremely lively.

"This is seen as the soul of the old town, and it is at risk of fading over time," he said.

In fact, in recent times, some "new residents" have moved in and bought old houses, but having adopted modern lifestyles they have stopped worshiping, so the old houses have become empty in a spiritual sense.

 

 

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Holding the fort: Most Hoi An residents are proud to maintain their traditional lifestyles.

 

This puts the local people's customs and religious activities at risk and folk art and cultural festivals are in danger of fading away.

This is a major challenge to the conservation and development of Hoi An.

"We are trying to change the ways new owners live, making them adapt to the customs and habits of the local population, who are gentle, humble and very simple. This will help to revive the traditional values that are typical of the ancient town," said Giang.

"The policy is to develop tourism in a way that safeguards our intangible culture and tangible heritage. This is also important for the environment but we will retain the benefits of development while helping to make Hoi An a "brand name," a modern day tourist destination of international stature."

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Hoi An is an old traditional port and market town and the only one in Viet Nam to be built in the 17th century, when it was one of the main trading hubs in South East Asia.

It has more than a thousand remaining architectural constructions, including streets, assembly rooms, temples, pagodas and churches that highlight the depth of cultural integration that took place between East and the West.

Over the centuries, the customs, rituals, traditional recipes, cultural and religious activities have been preserved for generations by the people of the old town. These are important factors that UNESCO acknowledged when declaring the ancient town of Hoi An a World Cultural Heritage in 1999.

Currently revenue from tourism and services accounts for 65 per cent of the city's GDP.

Source: VNS

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