Thursday, May 29, 2014

My Son Sanctuary - the overgrown remains of an ancient civilization

A thousand years worth of work, all taken down in a week would be the short story of the temples at My Son, center of the ancient Champa culture in central Vietnam... Little did the young pilots in their B52 planes know that they were targeting one of the most important ancient cultural sites in South East Asia, when they carpet-bombed the lush valley My Son is situated in. A single, hot August week in 1969 was all it took for the bombers to reduce to dusty rubble most of the 71 temples constructed by skillful Champa builders during nearly a millennium.

The monumental temples, all built to honor the Hindu God Shiva, formed together a huge religious center that served the powerful Champa Kingdom, that ruled over large areas of today's south and central Vietnam from about 3rd century until 13th century. The Thu Bon river starts here, then flows past the valley, finally merging into the South China Sea near the ancient port city of Hoi An, where the Champa exchanged goods and ideas with traders from faraway cultures. Buddhism, Christianity and Islam all made appearances, but My Son remained a stronghold of Hinduism until the 13th century. After that the Champa Kingdom slowly declined and was gradually absorbed by the growing power of Viet Nam. By the late 15th century, the Champa Kingdom ceased existing and the Shiva worshippers abandoned My Son.

Even if many of the monuments were documented by French archaeologists in the early 20th century and have now been reconstructed with help of their detailed documentation, the originals were lost forever. A deep green jungle covers now much of the valley, hiding huge craters of bombs and countless undetonated landmines under it. Remains of the ancient sculptures and structures form only soft mounds in the landscape, with no hope of ever rising again.

 My Son Sanctuary is a UNESCO World Heritage site - read more about its history here.

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