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Ly Dynasty palace recreated to showcase the splendour of ancient architecture

Researchers have recreated a palace from the Ly Dynasty, giving an insight into the architectural splendour on show in Vietnam more than 1,000 years ago.

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The Thang Long Imperial Citadel was built in the 11th century by the Ly Dynasty, marking the independence of Dai Viet (Great Viet), the ancient Vietnamese kingdom. Photo nhandan.vn

Scientists from the Institute of Imperial Citadel Studies (IICS) researched and excavated the relic site of the Thang Long Imperial Citadel in Hanoi for more than a decade, and they recently released the results.

The institute has restored in 3D the architectural form of the palace of the Ly Dynasty (1009–1225) era as the first step for further in-depth studies of the Thang Long Imperial Citadel.

"It will help us visualise more clearly and feel more deeply about the magnificent beauty of the ancient Thang Long Imperial Palace architecture," said Professor Bui Minh Tri, Director of the IICS.

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Dragon specimens of the architecture under the Ly Dynasty were found during archaeological excavations in Thang Long Imperial Citadel. Photo courtesy of the IICS


Tri said in the past decade, the research to 'decipher' the architectural mysteries of the Vietnamese royal palaces under the Ly Dynasty was conducted with great enthusiasm by scientists, based on archaeological relics and historical clues.

"However, to finish the research on the relic and to make it appear as real in front of the viewer's eyes was really a big, big challenge for scientists because the ancient imperial architecture under the Ly, Tran and Le dynasties in Vietnam has been almost lost as it was not recorded in history," he said.

"We do not have any drawings of the architecture of this period. The assertion of major architectural works in the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is mainly based on archaeological documents," Prof Tri added.

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The Institute of Imperial Citadel Studies (IICS) has restored in 3D the architectural form of the palace of the Ly Dynasty (1009–1225) as the first step for further in-depth studies and preservation of the Thang Long Imperial Citadel. Photo courtesy of the IICS


The first works of restoration were carried out and presented at the archaeological display area in the basement of the National Assembly House in 2016, including parts of the 3D images.

The initial research results and restoration were not complete at the time and were displayed only to special viewers. The studies were officially announced by the IICS in April this year and now the restoration display, including the 3D images, is open to the public. 

"That was the first time the 3D images of the Ly Dynasty's palace of more than a thousand years were shown," Prof Tri said, referring to the National Assembly display.

The 3D presentation of the palace's architecture had helped us clearly visualise and feel more deeply about the magnificent beauty of the architecture in the ancient Thang Long Imperial Citadel," he added.

Discoveries underground at 18 Hoang Dieu Street from 2002 to 2004 and the construction area of the National Assembly House in 2008-2009 exposed 53 vestiges of architectural foundations, including seven surrounding wall foundations and six wells of Thang Long Capital under the Ly Dynasty.

This was the most important discovery in the history of Vietnamese archaeology and secured World Cultural Heritage status for the Thang Long Imperial Citadel from UNESCO in October 2010, the expert said.

Since then, although archaeological clues have demonstrated the vestiges of the Ly Dynasty palace's architectural foundations underground in the Thang Long Imperial Citadel relics were elaborate wooden structures with tiled roofs that are rarely found anywhere else, there was not enough evidence for identifying the original architecture of the palace like in Beijing, China, or like the Changdokung of Seoul, South Korea, and Nara of Japan.

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Part of the Ly Dynasty palace in 3D form. -- Photo courtesy of the IICS


This meant that for 10 years after it won UNESCO recognition, researchers were unable to fully recreate a unique image and the beauty of the ancient palace architecture, many experts admitted.

“To decipher this mystery, the institute applied many research methods such as re-investigation and excavation of the 18 Hoang Dieu Street relic site; studying decoding types and functions of architectural roof tiles; investigating and studying architectural models preserved in museums; research on wooden artefacts excavated at the relic site; study historical data, especially comparative studies with ancient capital architecture in China, Japan and South Korea and studies on ancient architecture in northern Vietnam," Prof Tri said.

"The institute's research helped decipher the secrets of the Thang Long Citadel palaces, marking an important milestone and opening up opportunities for further research on other dynasties."

The professor said ancient architecture type locally called Đấu Củng (Dougorg), a term that originated from China, was key to the palace's structure.

"This is a type of roof-supporting structure consisting of two components named Đấu (Dou) and Củng (Gorg). The former acts as a pedestal, while the latter is like an elbow with the role of a support arm for another structure above," he said.

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Drawing of the entire imperial palace under the Ly Dynasty in the ancient Thang Long Imperial Citadel. Photo courtesy of the IICS 


With the road ahead still very long, scientists from the IICS have vowed to continue their research to understand the functions and roofing techniques of tiles excavated at the Thang Long Citadel.

On that basis, they will focus on restoring the roof morphology of the architecture of the Dai La, Dinh-Early Le, and Tran dynasties, especially the Kinh Thien Palace and the Main Palace in the Forbidden City of Thang Long under Early Le, from the 15th century.

“There are many other mysteries that need to be discovered. Now, we can imagine how is the architectural form of the Ly Dynasty but we still have to work more on the details of each space and subdivision to find their different functions.

"We will decipher more deeply, go into each small issue with hope to be able to tell the full story of the Ly palace architecture to the public," Prof Tri said.

Prof Tong Trung Tin, chairman of the Vietnam Archaeological Association, said: "The project of restoration and 3D displaying relics of the Ly Dynasty as well as other presentations under the basement of the National Assembly House show serious scientific investment with creative and unique ideas, creating an exhibition area meeting international standard requirements."

"This has opened an opportunity for archaeology community to get closer to the public, contributing to spreading pride among the public about our ancestors' history," Tin added.

The Thang Long Imperial Citadel was built in the 11th century during the Ly Dynasty, marking the independence of Dai Viet (Great Viet), the ancient Vietnamese kingdom (1010-1789). 

It was built on the remains of a Chinese fortress dating from the 7th-9th century, on drained land reclaimed from the Red River Delta in Hanoi.

The citadel was a centre of regional power for almost thirteen centuries.

Source: Vietnam News

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