Conservationist claims Vietnam must respect original works

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The team of the German Conservation Restoration and Education Project restores wall and ceiling paintings at the An Dinh Palace in Hue

To restore old landmarks is to preserve the past, but Vietnam is trying to remake historical structures, said the director of a German restoration project that preserved Hue's famous An Dinh Palace.

Andrea Teufel, director of the German Conservation Restoration and Education Projects (GCREP), said Vietnam's idea of restoration is a strange one: bring the relic down and make it new.

To rebuild a relic is to completely lose the original, Teufel told a local newspaper in an interview last week. She said old structures shouldn't be modified.

Teufel said after her group restored the An Dinh Palace, a beautiful structure built 100 years ago in Hue, many people asked "Why hasn't it changed? Why isn't it more beautiful or newer?

Teufel said she hoped Vietnamese people change their concept of restoration, since relics convey messages from the past and the purpose of restoration is to preserve the past.

Restorers, according to the German expert, need to respect the original version of relics in order to pass on their true values to later generations.

Vietnam has so many structures in need of restoration and it's time the country established college level training courses to teach a new generation of restorers, she said

Ms. Andrea Teufel, director of the German Conservation Restoration and Education Project that preserved Hue's famous An Dinh Palace

The work looks dirty, she said, adding that it also required a lot of professional knowledge about natural sciences, construction materials, history and the arts.

GCREP is training a group of 15 Vietnamese relic restorers who helped Teufel during their restoration of the An Dinh Palace between 2003-2008.

But Teufel said she's worried things will just go back to normal if the group leaves Vietnam for work elsewhere after the training.

She's also worried that educated restorers will face opposition from government agencies as well.

At An Dinh Palace, her group focused mainly on restoring wall and ceiling paintings which tell the stories of the imperial tombs of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945).

The palace was built under King Khai Dinh in 1902 and added to in 1917. It suffered serious dilapidation until 2001 when restoration efforts first began.

GCREP recovered all the walls and paintings using resin from wax trees mixed with wax. The palace has not experienced any damage and the paint has not peeled off since.

The restoration was conducted under the UNESCO standards and Venice Charter (1964), which provides an international framework for the conservation and restoration of monuments and sites.

A book detailing the An Dinh restoration process has been published in Vietnamese, English and German, with support from the German government.

The book was released in Hanoi on May 6 and will be promoted further at Festival Hue 2010 coming up in June.

Restoration of the gateway at King Tu Duc's imperial tomb, built in 1873, was also conducted successfully by GCREP, using the traditional mortar made from molasses, lime and sand.

Teufel said her group had earned precious restoration experience when applying Europe technologies on cheap and durable materials in Vietnam.

An Dinh Palace: Facts and figures

Khai Dinh, who reigned between 1916 and 1925, was passionate about architecture and An Dinh Palace was his first project.

The king built the palace to realize his dream of building a structure in the French style.

The palace was built by French architects and Vietnamese craftsmen in a park stretching over 2.3 hectares, with lotus ponds, a zoo, stables and vegetation.

Inspired by the palaces in France at the time, the architecture of An Dinh blends in with the surrounding gardens.

Khai Dinh, the twelfth and penultimate king of the Nguyen Dynasty which was the end of Vietnam's imperial years, wished to distinguish himself from his ancestors. He preferred to use materials from Europe such as brick, iron, steel and cement, and modified traditional decoration styles.

Western motifs were seen in ornamental stucco and wall paintings that resembled silk canvases or fine wallpapers.

The palace thus carried the king's signature and became an example of an early cultural exchange.

It is one of two architectural projects along with his mausoleum that are still standing.

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