Overview Of My Son
My Son Sanctuary is a complex of Hindu temples that has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1999. Located 40km away from Hoi An and 70km southwest of Da Nang, it served as the religious center of the Champa kingdom for 1,300 years.
Commissioned by the kings, the temples were built with grandeur and majesty. However, the Champa people abandoned the site in the early 14th century, allowing it to be taken over by the Vietnamese. It wasn’t until the 20th century when French architects and archeologists stumbled upon the temples hidden deep within the jungle. They were amazed to find that the Cham artists were master builders in brick architecture.
Today, My Son Sanctuary is a popular day trip destination from Hoi An and Da Nang, offering visitors the opportunity to learn about the culture and history of the fallen Champa kingdom. Surrounded by mountains and nestled in a forest valley, the complex comprises around 70 towers, with 20 still standing today. Its significance as a historical and architectural treasure was recognized by UNESCO in 1999 and it remains a must-see attraction for those interested in the history and culture of Central Vietnam.
My Son in Champa Kingdom’s Era
My Son Sanctuary is a holy land that has been revered for 900 years by the Champa kingdom, a Hindu-following state that flourished in Vietnam’s Central coast from the 2nd to 19th centuries. It was dedicated to the worship of Shiva, the “God of destroying and recreation.” Kings and monks held ceremonies there until the 14th century. In 1306, the Che Man king gave the land to the Viet people as part of a marriage alliance with a Vietnamese princess in an effort to build relationships and maintain peace before Mongol invasions. The Champa capital was later moved further south, leading to the abandonment of My Son.
Rediscovery of My Son
In 1885, a group of French soldiers discovered My Son’s temples in the jungle by mistake. Soon after, the sanctuary became a great attention to historians and archaeologists. However, because of remote location, bombs and wild environment, the excavations were not carried out yet. 7 years later, the Governor-General of French Indochina gave money to invest in excavations all over Central Vietnam.
READ MORE One-Pilar Pagoda
In 1903 and 1904, Henri Parmentier, reigning director of the French School of the Far East and a prominent sculptor Charles Carpeaux, were two leaders of first large-scale explorations. During this time, these academic scientists left many paintings, stories, information and photos that are priceless today. Thanks to their works, some fallen temples were documented and easier to be reconstructed. After returning to the capital, he wrote two books: “Monuments in the Valley of My Son” and “Cham monuments in Central Vietnam”. In 1915, valued sculptures were moved to Da Nang to preserve better and much of them have been staying there until now.
My Son in Vietnam War
From 1968 to 1975, My Son’s mountains were hiding places of Vietcong (Vietnam communists), including leaders of the Quang Nam-Da Nang province. In history books, the area is called “Hon Tau revolution base”. For that reason, the American air forces dropped bombs here many times. Official documents indicate around 10 people who died while being in the cave. In 1972, the tallest tower A1 Temple was destructed by B52 bomb, and the action was harshly condemned by historians globally. When the war ends, daily people found 300 to 400 bombs in the sanctuary, and some are exhibited in a small gallery. Today, visitors still see bomb craters by E and F temples.
Study Of My Son In the Post War Period
In 1981, Kazimierz Kwiatkowski, or Kazik, a Polish architect and conservationist arrived in Vietnam to work on the temples for 12 years, until 1994. Despite the difficulties of climate and the bomb raids, Kwiatkowski managed to remove vegetations from the towers, support leaning structures and document art and architecture. In 1991, as the sponsor from the Vietnam-Poland partnership project was stopped, he managed to raise fund himself and continued the work. Two small galleries were established to store the excavated artifacts, both are still in operation up to date. In 1999, My Son was inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage list, but he passed away suddenly. Local authorities placed a statue for him in Hoi An old town.
READ MORE Hang Luon Tunnel
Closer Look At The Ruins Of My Son
Within an enclosure, the Champa emperors constructed nearly 20 temples, the largest being the Tower A1. The French rediscovered the area and studired the architecture and decoration in detail. They estimated that Tower A1 was 24 meters in height. This temple is has two entrances facing East and West, instead of one. Unfortunately, in 1972, the area was heavily damaged by bombs dropped by American air forces. Currently, reconstruction projects are underway in collaboration with Indian experts.
Group B, C and D
There are 27 buildings which make this the largest cluster. The most important temple is the Tower C1 which is believed to be the earliest-built in the sanctuary, about 4th century. C1 features sandstone columns. By the entrance, visitors can see a tone stele with Cham inscriptions. Group D has two long halls called Mandapa where pilgrims and monks meditate and prepare offerings before proceeding to the main altar. Polish archaeologists renovated them in the 1980s and converted them to house small exhibitions.
The temples of Group G are located on a hilltop and can be accessed by walking upstairs from the main trail. Constructed in the late 12th century, the central temple was reconstructed from 2003 to 2013 with support from Italy. The temple unsually has three entrances instead of one and does not follow the traditional layout. Visitors can also see four other remains and witness Cham performances around it.
Group E and F
The ruins in Group E and F are surrounded by numerous bomb craters. An altar, or pedestal, was discovered and preserved in Da Nang’s Cham Museum of Sculpture. In 2012, a 7th-century Mukhalinga was found after heavy rain in the area, making it one of the rarest of its kind. Recently, one of the largest altars was also unearthed and is now considered a national treasure. The first altar is kept in the My Son Museum while the second remains in its original location. The temple of F group, located to the north, was built around the 8th century. Archaeologists have also built a metal roof and added support to keep the temple standing.
READ MORE Vietnam National Museum of History
This group, which consists of four towers, can be viewed on the left side of the main trail leading to the My Son sanctuary. From 2016 to 2019, Indian and Vietnamese experts conducted excavations and reconstruction work. The structures within the group are arranged in a West-East axis and are enclosed within an enclosure.
This group of temples is located halfway between the E and F temples and the buggy station, on the left side. Built in the 11th and 12th centuries, it has recently been reconstructed through a partnership between India and Vietnam. During excavations, remains of a “royal road” were found. Archaeologists believe that it may have been used by the emperor and his family members during festivals.
My Son Museum
In the My Son Museum the history of the My Son sanctuary and the Champa kingdom is succinctly explained here. Inside a glass box, sandstone Mukhalinga with the king’s portrait is protected. It is a national treasure. Another gallery displays information about the decorative art and the significance of My Son as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you wish to gain a deeper understanding of the Cham techniques used in building towers, you can watch a video here.
An amazing Cham traditional art performance is a must-see during a visit to My Son Sanctuary. The show is available at 9:15 a.m, 10:45 a.m, 2 p.m and 3:30 p.m daily. The artists play music and perform a variety of acts. Visitors are advised to be at the public stage 10 minutes before the showtime to find seating.
Entrance Fee At My Son
The entrance fee for My Son Sanctuary is 150,000 VND for visitors over the age of 10, 75,000 VND for children between 6 and 10 years old, and free for those under 6. This fee includes access to all temples, museums, round-trip transfer by buggy and traditional performances by Cham artists. Some visitors prefer to walk instead of taking the buggy.