Dispute leaves old gates in ruins
VietNamNet Bridge – Prolonged controversy and lack of co-ordination in management over the last two decades has left the historic brick-built Hai Van Gate between Da Nang and Thua Thien-Hue in ruins.
Ancient relic: Only brick gates from the Tran Dynasty (1470) and octagonal bunkers from the French colonial period are left at the Hai Van Gate complex. It's now in ruins due to prolonged bad management by the neighbouring provincial authorities of Da Nang and Thua Thien-Hue.
The site, which borders Thua Thien-Hue Province and Da Nang City on the top of Hai Van Pass, is a complex of brick-built gates dating from the Tran dynasty (1470), and octagonal bunkers from the French colonial period. But it's in poor condition and in a badly maintained environment.
Part of the foundations for the brick walls has eroded, the octagonal bunkers are strewn with rubbish and people have vandalised the walls by scribbling on them.
A clay path that zigzags around the gates and the bunkers is surrounded by grass, bush and stones, and there are no signs or information displays on the site's history. There are only old inscriptions clearly visible on the arch, but small trees are sprouting from the brick walls.
Despite its poor condition, the site attracts about 1,000 visitors per day who come on bikes and in vans from Hue and Da Nang.
The site has steel-roofed coffee and souvenir shops, but there are no public toilets.
In 1997, the then Ministry of Culture and Information (now the Culture, Sports and Tourism Ministry) rejected the idea of recognising the site as a national relic, a request made by administrations of both Thua Thien-Hue and Da Nang.
"Several meetings were held between the two local bodies to reach an agreement, but there was no progress. The border controversy was seen as the greatest hurdle," researcher Phan Thanh Hai, from Hue Monuments Conservation Centre told Viet Nam News in an interview.
The researcher, said 95 per cent of the site was in Hue, while only a part of the old wall and a victory monument of the Don Nhat (first garrison) during the French War were fully within the Da Nang border.
"The two local bodies cannot work on restoring the site and give it special protection as it is not entitled to ‘national-relic' status. Thus, no funds from the State budget can be provided for restoration," he said.
The researcher said UNESCO suggested to Hue that the Complex of Hue Monuments, which received a UNESCO recognition in 1993, should be enlarged to include the sea areas in Thuan An and Tu Hien estuaries and the water area at the foot of Hai Van Pass, as well as the Hai Van Gates.
He said the areas would be recognised as UNESCO heritage and would include 16 sites scattered in the Complex of Hue Monuments and the suburban areas of Hue City in 2017.
He said the recognition would protect the land and sea areas, and prevent historical sites from collapsing or disappearing due to the vagaries of time and the impact of human activities.
Deputy Director of the central Da Nang City's culture, sport and tourism department, Tran Quang Thanh, said the only joint operation of the two local bodies was to ensure the security of the site.
"We only boost co-operation between Lien Chieu District in Da Nang and Phu Loc in Hue to create a safe and clean environment at the site," Thanh said.
"Joint operations of Da Nang's border guards and militia as well as the rearrangement of the shopping area at the site has ensured the operation of services there," he said.
Some people feel that as the site is close to Da Nang (24km), its management should be handled by that city.
Hard to find: Tourists have to walk through bushes along a clay path to explore the historic site. — VNS Photos Cong Thanh
However, researchers from Hue said the site had witnessed history since the Nguyen Dynasty, and had seen two resistance wars against the colonial French rulers and the Americans. It was also once the border between Dai Viet (the Great Viet, now Viet Nam) and the Champa Kingdom, which ruled the region between the fourth and 13th centuries.
Historically, Hai Van Pass belonged to the Hindu Champa Kingdom under Jaya Simhavarman III (1288-1307), but the two provinces of O (Quang Tri) and Ly (Thua Thien-Hue) were given in exchange for the marriage of Huyen Tran Princess of King Tran Anh Tong. The Hai Van Pass then became the border between Great Viet and the Champa Kingdom.
The two brick gates were reinforced with concrete and steel-bar roofs in the fight against Vietnamese guerillas (French colonial period) in 1826, and then during the American war.
In 1470, King Tran Nhan Tong proclaimed that the Hai Van Gate was "the most marvellous wonder". The inscriptions on the gate arches have survived. Both the octagonal bunkers and the gates need urgent restoration work to prevent their collapse. According to coffee shop owners in the area, a concrete watch tower over a bunker was damaged by lightning a few years ago.
An official from the Hue Monument Conservation Centre said the site should be recognised as a national relic before the Government asked either Da Nang or Hue to manage it.
"It does not matter. Hue or Da Nang can manage the site well and develop it as a good and safe tourist attraction. But it needs a national heritage status for an overall restoration plan," he said.
An area of more than 1,000sq.m on top of Hai Van Pass acts as a resting place for tourists travelling between Hue and Da Nang.
There are several souvenir shops there, but few services and standard and secure rest-stops have been provided for tourists, said Deputy Director of Da Nang City's culture, sports and tourism department Tran Chi Cuong.
The city plans to call for bids for developing tourist services and rest-stops for tourists near the city's border.
Hai Van Pass is the only road allowing tankers or road adventurers to travel between Da Nang and Hue since the Hai Van tunnel became operational in 2005.