Three decades ago, the Complex of Hue Monuments was the first in Vietnam recognised by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage. Since then, the management, preservation, and promotion of the heritage system in Hue city, the central province of Thua Thien-Hue, have been prioritised, reviving numerous architectural and artistic works, contributing to the ancient capital’s integration with the world and providing a foundation for the local socio-economic development.
First site accredited as world heritage
During its 143 years of existence, the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945), the last feudal one of Vietnam, left behind an extensive complex of monumental sites. However, the heritage system has been significantly impacted by the war and the harsh weather conditions.
Thai Cong Nguyen, former Director of the Hue Monuments Conservation Centre, recalled that during the war, the Hue Imperial Citadel became a target of bombs and artillery fire, with many areas and architectural structures destroyed. After the war, more than 300 remaining works were damaged. At the time, limited resources were allocated for heritage conservation, putting the area at risk of collapse.
In 1981, following his visit to the Vietnamese city, Amadou Mahtar M’Bow, then Director-General of UNESCO, called for saving the local cultural heritage. In response, a strong international campaign to support the city was launched, gradually and positively changing the perception of the heritage. In mid-1982, the Hue historical and cultural relics management company was established, later renamed the Hue Monuments Conservation Centre, marking a step forward in the local heritage preservation.
According Nguyen, the process to make the Complex of Hue Monuments a World Cultural Heritage began in 1990. In that year, during a visit to Thua Thien-Hue by then Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet, provincial leader asked for permission to develop a conservation and value enhancement plan for Hue monuments, prepare scientific documents for submission to UNESCO for listing the area as a World Cultural Heritage, and demarcate a protection zone to prevent locals’ encroachment. Kiet approved these proposals.
The dossier for the UNESCO submission was completed in two years, 1992 and 1993, and the complex became Vietnam first’s World Cultural Heritage on December 11, 1993.
Now, Thua Thien-Hue is home to five UNESCO-recognised cultural heritages. They are the Complex of Hue Monuments (1993 – tangible heritage), nha nhac royal music (2003 – intangible heritage), woodblocks of Nguyen Dynasty (2009 – documentary heritage), documents of Nguyen Dynasty (2014 – documentary heritage), and royal literature on Hue Royal Architecture (2016 – documentary heritage).
After receiving a nod from the Government, the Hue Monuments Conservation Centre implemented a master plan for the conservation and bringing into play the value of the complex between 1996 and 2010. The 720 billion VND (30.61 million USD) project aimed to preserve, restore, and renovate over 80 major architectural structures.
Subsequently, the centre carried out a project adjusting the master plan for 2010-2020. At a cost over 2.3 trillion VND, it undertook the conservation, restoration, and enhancement of over 170 structures and components.
Phan Van Tuan, Deputy Director of the centre, stated that after three decades being a World Cultural Heritage, the complex is approaching its revival and its original appearance of a historical imperial city is gradually being restored.
According to UNESCO’s assessment, the local conservation efforts are now entering a phase of stability and sustainable development, becoming a significant lever in the province and the region’s socio-economic development strategies.
Revival, sustainable development
Alongside the support of the international community, Vietnam has proactively implemented policies to mobilise resources for the preservation and promotion of the monuments, creating attractive tourism products to make Hue a beckoning destination.
To develop Hue into a “heritage city” as well as a national and global cultural tourism hub, the centre is currently working on building a blueprint for the conservation and restoration of the complex until 2030, with a vision towards 2050. The plan is expected to undergo assessment by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism and the Prime Minister in September this year.
According to UNESCO representative in Vietnam Christian Manhart, the restoration work needs to be carried out regularly to maintain the outcomes achieved over the past 30 years and effectively utilise the value of the heritage in the near future./.