Story: Yen Chi
Photos: Le Huy Hoang Hai
A rare library built during the Nguyen Dynasty is being lovingly restored in Hue
In a city full of historic architecture, the Library Pavilion stands out. This library was built at the behest of Emperor Minh Mang in 1825 in the heart of Hoc Hai Lake within the citadel. Over 1,000 workers were mobilized to dredge the lake, build a manmade island and construct this library. Standing as a monolithic stone and plastered building, the Library Pavilion is very different from the hundreds of wooden edifices built during the Nguyen Dynasty.
The pavilion comprises two stories. The lower floor has 11 compartments, and the upper one seven compartments and two gables. All compartments were meant to store crucial accounts of the Nguyen Dynasty, mostly papers and woodcuts. According to the “Chronicle of the Library Pavilion” (1907), stored records included key diplomatic accounts between Vietnam and France, Vietnam and the Chinese Empire, accounts of the Six Ministries (Internal, Production, Rituals, , Military, Justice and Construction) and woodcuts of the court. Geographical accounts made up the lion’s share.
To reduce the risk of fire and damage by insects, the Library Pavilion was built alone on a rectangular island connected to the shore by a stone and brick bridge to the West. It was associated with a famous destination in the imperial capital: Tinh Tam (Soothing Heart) Lake. Tinh Tam Lake and Hoc Hai Lake were originally tributaries of the Kim Long River that were later converted into lakes.
Due to historical upheavals, the Library Pavilion was devastated and ruined. The construction was not operated as intended but converted for other uses: stored accounts were moved to other destinations, both in Vietnam and overseas. By the end of the 1990s, the once glorious Library Pavilion was close to oblivion.
A project to restore the Library Pavilion was kickstarted in the early 2000s after this edifice was handed over to the Center for Hue Relics Preservation. In 2014, the restoration project officially commenced. Much of the restoration is already finished. It is expected to be completed this year.
The restoration of the Library Pavilion will add a new and unique architectural gem to the Monument Complex of the Hue Former Citadel. More importantly, the city will add another illustrious library to its preservation list, aiding the safeguarding of its documentary heritages, which were once rich and diverse.
Hue now boasts five UNESCO World Documentary Heritages. Apart from the Monument Complex of the Nguyen Dynasty and Royal Elegant Music, the city’s other certified heritages are all documentary: Woodcuts of the Nguyen Dynasty, Imperial Ordinances of the Nguyen Dynasty and Poetry on Imperial Architecture. Most of these somehow relate to the establishment and history of the Library Pavilion. As a result, the Library Pavilion is the ideal place to sustainably research, store and preserve these documents for future generations.
Developing a center tasked with storing and researching the cultural heritages of the Hue Former Citadel is underway. This center will connect the values of the past to our modern lives. Given its significance, the Library Pavilion is much more than a storehouse, but also the perfect place to preserve, research and promote a unique treasure of the Hue Former Citadel – its documentary heritages.