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Hue’s Heritage Threatened By Development, Time

In a recent piece for The New York Times, Edward Wong warns that many of Hue’s World Heritage sites and perhaps its very soul are slowly deteriorating as a result of development and environmental factors.


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Wong touches on the significance of the city that Phan Thanh Hai, director of the Hue Monuments Conservation Center describes as “…[maybe] the most impressive” in all of Vietnam.

“Straddling the Perfume River in central Vietnam, Hue was the seat of the last imperial dynasty, and it has long been known for what the Nguyen emperors left behind: the imposing walled Citadel with its former palaces and pleasure gardens; the ornate royal tombs scattered across the verdant hills;  and the wooden villas of their mandarins.”

Though much of the city’s citadel was famously destroyed in fighting during the 1968 Tet Offensive, its historic character has reminded intact. That, however, may be changing cautions Wong.

A photo of North Vietnamese troops entering the Citadel during the 1968 Tet Offensive overlaid on a current view of the site. Photo by Khánh Hmoong]

Pressures stemming from a growing population - the city is currently home to 340,000 souls - and its status as a prolific tourism destination – “Signs outside the Citadel and the Nguyen royal tombs declare that last December, officials recognized the 30 millionth person to visit,” since 1993 – have created a need for infrastructure development and perhaps even apartment towers that would be visible from the ancient fortified site.

Hue city. Photo by Hoang Giang Hai.

Hai told Wong that “inappropriate management” of the historic sites, in addition to “impacts from natural disaster, and from harmful insects, microorganisms as well as fungi on wooden components,” are endangering the site’s World Heritage status.

“If the problems aren’t addressed, the World Heritage Committee can consider putting the property on the World Heritage Endangered List,” he said. “No country likes that. It’s a loss of face. It can impact negatively on tourism.”

A woman in áo dài takes a photo with her DSLR in the hallways of the Citadel. Photo by Andy Enero.

“Heritage is fairly low down on the list for governments — they all want development,” Hai added. “It’s hard to convince governments they can have heritage and development at the same time.”

Time will tell if Vietnam is able to achieve this delicate and often elusive balance. 

[Top photo by Hendrik Terbeck]

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