Culture Culture

07/12/2022 - 08:22

Gia Hoi old quarter: forgotten treasure Part 2: Waiting for a specific project

People are getting impatient because the heritage is gradually fading. To them Gia Hoi is a "gold mine" of Hue in terms of tourism.

According to Nguyen Xuan Hoa, the former director of the Culture and Information Bureau, while Thua Thien Hue is concentrating on implementing the Resolution 54 of the Politburo on “building Thua Thien Hue into a heritage municipality on the basis of preserving and promoting the value of the heritage of Hue Ancient Capital and its cultural identity,” it is necessary to raise the issue of protecting, embellishing and promoting the value of Gia Hoi-Dinh Market Old Quarter with a specific project and more clear-cut responsibility.

The remaining beautiful old houses on Bach Dang St. next to Dong Ba River

From failed projects

It is not accurate to say that the Gia Hoi old quarter has been forgotten since over the years, many researchers and cultural organizations have repeatedly mentioned it and proposed many conservation solutions.

In 1998, Chieu Hoa All-Girls University (Japan) set up a project to study the architecture of traditional houses in the Gia Hoi-Dinh Market area to conserve and promote their values. They investigated, surveyed and identified more than 50 traditional houses along Bach Dang, Chi Lang, To Hien Thanh, Nguyen Chi Thanh and Nguyen Du Streets to learn about their ages, classify and propose how to preserve them, but failed.

In 2002, the provincial General Museum carried out an investigation and survey of the Gia Hoi-Dinh Market old quarter, identifying 82 ancient constructions and learning about their owners’ wishes to propose how to preserve and promote their values, but brought back no results. 

In 2004 the Institute of Urban-Rural Planning (belonging to Ministry of Construction) collaborated with the provincial Culture and Information Bureau to set up a project to embellish the Gia Hoi-Dinh Market old quarter and promote its value. The project was supported by the community and urban managers with a view to protecting, repairing, embellishing and properly exploiting the heritage including architecture, traditional festivals and traditional crafts, designing tourist routes with destinations, providing orientation in repairing and building houses, paving sidewalks, growing trees, designing signs and decorating, etc.  

“During that time we invited representatives from Hue City People's Committee and People's Committees of the related wards, and some local people to visit Hoi An Ancient Town. We also collected ideas from various sides, but again the project was just on paper,” recalled Nguyen Xuan Hoa.

In July 2005, the provincial People's Committee approved the detailed planning of the two residential areas in Phu Hiep and Phu Cat Wards (Decision No. 2175/QD-UBND dated 4/7/2005) and the detailed planning of the ancient area along Chi Lang St. (Decision No. 2176/QD-UBND dated 4/7/2005) with strict regulation about construction and renovation of both public and private constructions on Chi Lang and Bach Dang Streets including house styles, architecture, maximum height, etc. However those aims of saving and protecting the Gia Hoi area were suspended. 

According to Nguyen Xuan Hoa, though being invested with lots of time and effort, those projects failed due to the lack of a strategic policy about conservation and promotion of the value of the old quarter. 

Analyzing the difficulties and inadequacies, Phan Luong Bang, Deputy Head of Urban Management Department (Hue City,) frankly admitted that it was because the projects were on a small scale and scattered, and the consent, the collaboration and the coordination from local people were low, and there was a lack in policies that really assisted the people, and most importantly, the fund was not sufficient. 

The policy must take local people into consideration

About the value of the Gia Hoi old quarter, according to Dr. Tran Dinh Hang, Head of the National Art and Culture Institute in Hue, the Gia Hoi old quarter is like a Hoi An in Hue. “Hoi An has become a well-known tourist town, why hasn’t Gia Hoi?” asked Hang.  

Also according to Hang, if adequately recognized and properly invested, Gia Hoi can become a crucial tourist site in Hue. “We’ve so far focused on the complex of monuments of the Ancient Capital but forgotten Gia Hoi. A center of services, especially at night, is certainly not the “Western Streets,” or the Citadel, or the Hai Ba Trung street, but the Gia Hoi area,” suggested Hang.

According to Dang Minh Nam, Vice Head of Thua Thien Hue Institute for Study and Development, who is doing the research “Studying and Proposing Solutions for Building Gia Hoi Old Quarter into Typical Streets for Tourism and Commerce,” with its heritage of architecture, festivals, traditional crafts and its remaining typical space, Gia Hoi Old Quarter as a potential center for tourist services is unarguable. 

"The remaining point is a proper policy which assists and goes hand in hand with local people,” suggested Nam

According to Nam, along with proper policies, the heritage there must be treated as a living entity. The heritage is preserved and conserved in a sustainable manner only when it is associated with economic efficiency, livelihoods and benefits for the people.

Policies must be accessible to local people and meet their needs and desires. It is necessary to identify which relics need conserving originally, which need preserving and adapting, who need financially assisting to restore their houses, who want to switch their jobs, etc. The question of collaboration among authorities, entrepreneurs and people must be solved. 

At the same time, the infrastructure for transport needs to be one step ahead. Parking space and sidewalks for pedestrians must be built. Regulations must be strict; for example, a sign for a shop or store must be submitted for approval,” explained Nam.

To Resolution 54

In a presentation at a conference on preserving and promoting the cultural heritage of Hue held in 2021, the architects Vo Si Chuan and Le Van Thanh Hung (Department of Architecture - University of Sciences, Hue University) raised the issue: Hue has a strength in cultural tourism. However, over time, the tourist products are gradually becoming too familiar while many other resources are not exploited yet including the Gia Hoi old quarter. According to them, in the context that Thua Thien Hue is on the way to becoming a municipality, with the existing values, sooner or later, the Gia Hoi old quarter and the Bao Vinh ancient town must be restored. 

Regarding that proposal, as said by Nguyen Viet Bang, Vice Chairman of Hue City People's Committee, the Gia Hoi old quarter has been so far identified as an area in which its urban landscape needs preserving, its historical and cultural relics need conserving, and its traditional houses and strengths in tourism need exploiting.

Together with the Resolution 54-NQ/TW dated December 10, 2019 by the Politburo on constructing and developing Thua Thien Hue Province until 2030, with a vision to 2045, the Resolution No. 83/NQ-CP dated May 27, 2020 by the government decides to take steps to restore the landscape and the space of Hue Ancient Capital, including restoring all cultural constructions in the Gia Hoi-Chi Lang-Bao Vinh area with its financial support. On that basis, its social infrastructure system will be upgraded; its technical infrastructure will be improved; a project of conserving and promoting the value of Ruong houses and ancient houses in the Gia Hoi-Bao Vinh area will be completed.

Most recently, the Provincial People's Committee approved the planning of the subdivision of Phu Hau - Phu Hiep - Phu Cat (Hue City) in the Decision No. 297/QD-UBND dated February 13, 2021. In particular, the 51-hectare area of Bach Dang and Chi Lang Streets is intended to be preserved with relics, churches and other historical constructions scattering in the residential area, forming historical sites and routes with traditional identities. 

The Decision 297 also sets up some specific requirements on planning and constructing, keeping the current construction density, restricting added constructions, taking advantage of empty areas to turn them into spaces for trees, gardens, and public commons for the community. 

For houses with old-styled roofs and changed front and frame, it is necessary to take steps to repair, renovate and restore them. New constructions and those which need re-embellishing are encouraged to use the traditional architecture. New constructions must not interfere the ancient space, the cultural relics and the religious constructions. 

The planning also intends to invest in such streets as Nguyen Gia Thieu, Ho Quy Ly, Nguyen Chi Thanh and Nguyen Binh Khiem, connecting them with transport systems in the planned and non-planned areas and with other areas of the city to lessen the traffic on Chi Lang Street with a view to building, conserving and promoting the Gia Hoi-Dinh Market old quarter in connection with Bao Vinh Ancient Town for tourism. 

Gladly the Resolution 54 is opening up many opportunities for the Gia Hoi old quarter when the government promises its financial support. According to Nguyen Xuan Hoa, whether or not that treasure would be awakened all depends on a specific project.

“It is necessary to start immediately with a specific project and be ready to take responsibility in front of people and the heritage,” suggested Hoa. 

Story and photo: Kim Oanh

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