Culture Culture

15/07/2021 - 08:49

Preserving literature on Hue royal architecture

With its unique and rare values, in 2016, literature on Hue royal architecture was recognized as a world documentary heritage of the Asia-Pacific region. Since then, this heritage has been carefully preserved and promoted by Hue Monuments Conservation Center.

Enameled poetry at Thai Hoa Palace

A vibrant museum of the Nguyen dynasty’s literature

The system of literature written in Chinese characters on Hue royal architecture consists of the most quintessential literary pieces selected from the works of emperors, princes and mandarins of the Nguyen Dynasty. They were carved, engraved, inlaid, glazed or embossed on Hue royal architecture during the period 1802-1945.

This system includes thousands of poems, proses, couplets, which were directly expressed in many different types of materials, such as wood, ivory, bone, mother-of-pearl, enameled bronze, porcelain, and etc., on architecture as a special decoration, unique to Hue.

On most of the architecture of palaces and mausoleums from Ngo Mon, Thai Hoa palace, Can Chanh palace, Trieu Mieu, Hung To Mieu, The To Mieu and etc., literature was used as decoration on panels of the beams, walls and co diem (space in-between the two layers of roofs) in both the interior and exterior of the building.

The style of decorating includes a poem or calligraphic word accompanied by a painting, which creates the design of “nhat thi nhat hoa” (one poem, one painting) or “nhat tu nhat hoa” (one word, one painting). This became a unique style of decoration on royal architecture in the Nguyen dynasty period. This documentary heritage is the manifestation of many different elements: fine arts, decorative techniques, calligraphy, traditional royal carpentry... creating a style imbued with traditional identity.

“Big word” and “One poem, one painting” decorations were carved on red lacquered and gilded wood on the interior panels of Thai Hoa Palace

Despite the toll of time, the destruction of war and the damage from natural disaster and humankind, Hue has been able to preserve a large volume of literature on architectural monuments. At present, there are more than 2,000 blocks of literature and a corresponding number of paintings carved, painted, mother-of-pearl inlaid, enameled and porcelain-mosaic inlaid on Hue royal architecture.

This is truly a vibrant museum on the literature of the Nguyen Dynasty, showcasing many different themes and contents, such as: praising the dynasty, the peaceful and prosperous state, the independent country, the united frontier, the beauty of the imperial capital, the beauty of flowers and trees, the seasons of the year...

Most of the above documentary heritages were also recorded in the literary collection of the emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty, such as Emperors Minh Mang, Thieu Tri, and Tu Duc and were printed and popularized during the Nguyen Dynasty.

Preserving the heritage

Five years after the world documentary heritage recognition, Hue Monuments Conservation Center is continually striving to preserve and promote the value of the poetic system on royal architecture.

Mr. Vo Le Nhat, former Director of the Center for Conservation of Hue Monuments, said: “We are aware of the importance of this heritage and always strive to preserve and promote the heritage value. We understand that once the heritage is lost, it cannot be restored. If this happens, it will be a huge loss for all humanity.

An enameled poem

The system of poetry and literature written in Chinese characters is being carefully preserved by the center along with the preservation of architectural structures containing this documentary heritage. According to Ms. Le Thi An Hoa, Head of Scientific Research Department, Center for Conservation of Hue Monuments, each poem block is an antique, but because it is located on ancient structure, it is not possible to apply modern methods such as dedicated warehouse to control the temperature and humidity. Therefore, this heritage system is still under the influence of time, climate, and temperature.

Specialized preservation and conservation agencies are making efforts to research and preserve them by many methods, especially painting with traditional materials or gilding with real gold at important architectures; preserving paintings and literature on enameled bronze; embellishing and preserving porcelain mosaics...

For the restoration of monuments containing world documentary heritage, the Center has developed plans for safe preservation of literature on the panels of the beams, on the walls and roof’s rims to limit damage and to keep them intact to withstand the test of time. 

The Center also focuses on surveying and evaluating the current status of literature carved, inlaid, glazed, etc., on wooden, concrete, and enameled bronze structures. The Center will also continue to study the restoration of traditional enameled bronze techniques, carving and mosaics techniques, to restore lost poems and words on the panels of monuments.

In addition, digital technology is applied to preserve the entire system of literature on Hue royal architecture. The literature on architectural structures has been filmed, photographed and digitalized by the Center to document in case of unexpected and unfortunate circumstances, as well as to limit the use of original materials. The content of this document has also been translated and a database system has been built for readers to search using traditional catalogs and information networks.

Hue Monuments Conservation Center is also translating and building content for the publication of "Literature on Hue royal architecture" so that the content of this precious heritage can be introduced to the public. This will be the first time that a publication on poetry on Hue royal architecture is published relatively comprehensively in terms of content and form. Approximately 150 poems will provide readers the most general documentation of the literature system on the architectural works of Hue ancient capital.

Story: Minh Hien - Photo: Hue Monuments Conservation Center