Royal Citadel declared World Heritage Site

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Thang Long's Royal Citadel nets prestigious UN designation just in time for the millennial celebration

One of the largest excavation sites at the Thang Long Royal Citadel

The Thang Long Royal Citadel was named a UNESCO world heritage site Sunday morning after a period of delay and uncertainty.

UNESCO, the UN cultural and scientific body, rates heritage site applications in four categories: the first one includes those that are recognized immediately, the second are those that are recognized after brief consideration, the third are delayed for a lengthier period until the application is amended, and the fourth are rejected outright.

Early this year, the UN placed the Thang Long Royal Citadel into the third category. Many expected roughly three years to pass before the honorarium would come through.

"But we have managed to clarify every issue in the application... to bring the citadel to the first category, which means it has passed two ranks," The Thao & Van Hoa (Sports & Culture) quoted Phan Huy Le, chairman of Vietnam History Association, as saying.

But Tong Trung Tin, head of Vietnam Archaeology Association, said following UNESCO recognition, there need to be long term efforts to preserve the citadel.

Expert Nguyen Lan Cuong from the association said preserving excavated relics from the ravages of Hanoi's tropical climate will not prove easy.

Cuong said there have been suggestions that parts of the site be buried to preserve it for future generations. The hope is that they will have more money and better technology to effectively excavate the site

A brick assumed to date back to the Ly Dynasty

The decision was made Sunday morning (Vietnam time) during a ten-day conference in Brazil. The World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization had gathered there to revise its list of environmentally and culturally unique sites.

Chairman Le said getting the UNESCO status was "a very big success." He credited the efforts of local scientists, international researchers and the Vietnamese delegates at the UNESCO session for the coup.

"I've been following the [UNESCO session] for days." He said. "I knew the chances for success were high but we couldn't say anything in advance as the situation was not simple."

In October last year, the world's leading conservationists from the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) visited the site and gave it high marks. At the time, Le said, the ICOMOS inspectors found that the ancient city met all the criteria for the UNESCO designation and did not indicate that further measures should be taken.

But early this year, their report noted several shortcomings. The scale of the citadel was too small, archaeological studies about the site have not been widely known, and there remained many constructions around the core of the site, they said.

They also said there were not many guards around the site and the managers do not have the resources at their disposal to properly preserve the citadel.

"We have explained all the issues scientifically. The citadel is small... but it was the political center [of Vietnam] for 13 consecutive centuries; furthermore, it was the country's capital for eight centuries."

Le said that, following the findings, Hanoi authorities set to work removing constructions from the site and have taken steps to strengthen supervision around the site

A ceramic bird discovered at the ancient site

"[The UNESCO recognition] is an invaluable and meaningful gift for the Vietnamese and the people of Hanoi just ahead of the millennium anniversary of Thang Long-Hanoi," the government announced in a statement posted on its website on Monday.

The Thang Long Royal Citadel met three out of six selection criteria.

The UN organization found that the ancient city exhibits an important interchange of human values over a span of time. The layout of the citadel combines eastern royal qualities with aspects of western military fortifications.

The citadel is an exceptional monument of the Vietnamese civilization on the Red River Basin. It stands as a testament to Vietnam's extraordinary ability to survive waves of foreign invaders and testifies to its intimate relations with cultures all over Southeast Asia. Artifacts, including pottery from China, Japan and West Asia illustrate the extensive trading network that existed in ancient Hanoi.

Le added that the citadel will be open occasionally and there will be two displays of relics at the site this month.

Nearly 900 environmentally or culturally unique sites have been named in the World Heritage list so far.

Vietnamese entries in the list include: the Complex of Monuments in the old imperial capital of Hue; Ha Long Bay; Hoi An Town; My Son Sanctuary and Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park.

Le Thi Minh Ly, deputy head of the Cultural Heritage Department under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, who attended the UNESCO session, said Vietnam enjoyed tremendous support from international allies.

"They respect Vietnamese heritage, Vietnamese people and especially the significance of Hanoi's millennial anniversary," Ly said.

Portions of the 20,000-square-meter site were excavated from December 2002 to March 2004. Hundreds of architectural vestiges and artifacts from the 6th century to 20th century period were found amidst the sedimentary layers of history.

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