Deep in the jungle, a citadel sleeps

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No one knows who built the Tà Kơn citadel in the central province of Binh Dinh or when

No one really knows when and how Tà Kơn Citadel was built.

The only known fact is that it has been there, in the primeval forest of Vinh Son Commune, Vinh Thanh District, for centuries already.

It is also true that anyone who sees it can't help but wonder how it was possible to build a citadel that is nearly 20 meters high and nearly one kilometer long with giant stones of various shapes, from rectangular to hexagonal.

When we saw it for the first time, the stones looked like they'd simply been piled on one another to make the fortress.

No wonder it was named Tà Kơn, which means "piled up" in the language of Ba Na ethnic minority people, explained Dinh Chuong, the patriarch of Kon Blo Village in Vinh Son.

The extraordinary structure, plus the remote location, which we reached after walking for nearly two hours through the quite dark forest, added an air of great mystery to the citadel, no doubt inspiring lots of tales.

A Ba Na legend has it that Tà Kơn was built by the Mountain God and his wife, a beautiful Ba Na woman named Ho Bia. It is said that the God had to overcome three challenges set up by Bia to win her hand in marriage.

In another tale, the citadel was built by Kon Blo villagers a long, long time ago under the order of kings Tram and Trum. The brothers lived there with their sister Bia Toni.

Acting as our tour guide, Dinh Khuat, Chuong's son, said the way to the citadel was used by Ba Na ancestors to transport stones and other materials to build it.

He also said that the ancient workers were not allowed to walk to the construction site, but had to swing with a pole that was hundreds of meters long from Kon Hray Mountain to cross the Tru stream and get to Van Len, where the tools were kept.

As if the story was not mythical enough, Khuat told us that the workers at that time used tools made from special stones given by Trum and Tram and that they were sharp enough to cut stones easily.

When we asked him about a cave at the head of Tà Kơn, the man explained that it led to a valley under the citadel's foot where the kings lived. As dubious as the explanation was, we did not dare to go into the cave to check its veracity, as it looked dark and scary.

Another legend about Tà Kơn we found more believable than others is that it was built by the Ba Na people and three brothers Nguyen Nhac, Nguyen Lu, and Nguyen Hue. They were known as rebels as the bloody civil war raged between Vietnam's rival feudal houses the Nguyen in the south and the Trinh in the north during the 18th century.

In fact, near the citadel are many relics related to the Tay Son Rebellion (1771-1802), like the Nguyen Hue orange garden, and the Ong Binh and Ong Nhac hills.

However, Dinh Ba Hoa, director of the Binh Dinh Museum, told us he feels it is impossible that such a giant structure was built by humans a long time ago. He said it looks "almost natural," adding that the museum and local agencies are working together to get Tà Kơn recognized as a relic.

"We need to wake Tà Kơn up so that everyone knows about it; we can't let such a beautiful site sleep forever deep in the forest," Hoa said.

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