Safeguarding An Dinh Palais

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'An Dinh – Hué‘s
Hidden Pearl'

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(very detailed)


The PROJECT

The An Dinh Palace in the former imperial city, Hué, was the first site for which German restorers (now of GCREP) developed a joint restoration and on the job training/certification scheme, which they implemented in several phases from 2003–2008. The tropical climate and inadequate maintenance had wreaked havoc on the building and its unique wall and ceiling paintings. Conversions, extensions, coats of monochrome paint and interim use of the palace as emergency accommodation and as a trade union centre had also taken their toll. One legacy of the American War is the chronic shortage of specialized personnel, which this new concept sought to alleviate. The conservation and restoration of the palace and the training scheme for young local people were a great success and the outcome received critical acclaim. In 2008, on the occasion of the Hué Cultural Festival, the restored rooms of the An Dinh Palace and an exhibition about the project were opened to the public. Now this national monument in all its splendour is back on the map for the Vietnamese people.

Restoration

The conservation and restoration of the An Dinh Palace were carried out strictly to UNESCO standards, in compliance with the internationally ratified Venice Charter – which is by no means a matter of course in Vietnam. Following analyses of the composition of original materials and the extent of actual deterioration, the restoration of six large wall paintings in the main hall of the palace began. They depict the mausoleums of six emperors of the Nguyen dynasty and are held to rank among the earliest examples of western style painting to have survived in Vietnam. The restorers and trainee-restorers gradually worked their way through the ground floor salons and conservatory rooms, the walls of which appear to be covered by painted silk. Ornamental motifs in the innermost rooms are lavish and opulent yet become more dainty and floral on the periphery. Numerous interior doors and windows create surreal effects. In addition to work on the walls and ceilings, rooms were returned to their original dimensions, doors reinstalled, ceiling girders replaced. Total reintegration of the elegant stairwell walls was impossible so it was decided instead to graphically render the lost designs. The result is sparingly conjured, breathtakingly fine, and clearly demonstrates the complexity of the restoration process. The wall paintings on the first floor sharply contrast those below. An awe-inspiring blend of Vietnamese decorative motifs, redolent of European wallpapers, represents an unparalleled cultural fusion. Here, a painstaking process enabled plaster fragments to be reinstalled after renewal of the ceiling girders. Vietnamese tools and materials were used exclusively, whenever feasible. The results have set a benchmark for future restoration projects in Vietnam.

History

In 1916 the French colonial government installed Khai Dinh on the throne, the twelfth and penultimate emperor of the Nguyen dynasty. Revolt was on the rise and the French response unfailingly brutal. Record rice harvests benefited only the tiny rich minority. The masses starved. Khai Dinh lived in the illusory world of the imperial court, playing the role of puppet ruler more perfectly than any of his predecessors. His passion was architecture in general and French Baroque in particular. Of the many buildings he created, only the An Dinh Palace and his mausoleum have survived. Khai Dinh's materials of choice for the former were European: it was built from 1916–1918 with bricks, iron, steel and cement. He also modified traditional Vietnamese interior design: patterned wallpapers, ornamental stucco and wall paintings had now to incorporate western motifs. The result bore his unique signature, was a shining example of early cultural exchange. Khai Dinh was a bon vivant who accorded himself four secondary wives and innumerable concubines, and was not averse to opium. For moments of dissipation, he would leave the Citadel's formal Imperial City and retire to An Dinh for cards and cognac. He dedicated the palace to his son Bao Dai, who became Vietnam's final emperor when Khai Dinh died in 1925. After the Vietnamese liberation movement under Ho Chi Minh had forced his abdication, Bao Dai moved with his mother Tu Cung, his wife and his children into the An Dinh Palace. When the Indochina War was over, he settled permanently in Paris. His mother alone remained at the Palace, until she too had to leave in 1975, at the end of the American War. She died in 1980 without ever seeing Bao Dai again.

Key Players

The conservation and restoration of the wall and ceiling paintings at the An Dinh Palace was funded in the framework of the Cultural Preservation Programme maintained by Germany's Federal Foreign Office. The German Embassy in Hanoi steered and monitored the project. The Hué Monuments Conservation Center (HMCC) had restored the Palace facade and grounds in 2002 and also supported restoration of its interiors. Two German non-profit associations directed the project at different phases, from 2003–2008. The association 'East meets West' (Ost trifft West e. V) supported an exhibition about the project, shown during the Hué Cultural Festival 2008. On-site work and the training scheme for fifteen local Vietnamese artists and artisans selected on merit were carried out under the aegis of the German Conservation, Restoration and Education Projects (GCREP) team, led by Chief Restorer and Project Manager, Ms. Andrea Teufel. The trainees were gradually introduced to practical and theoretical aspects of conservation and restoration and proved indispensable to the success of the project. The organisational talent and flexible approach of our committed interpreter/ assistants made an invaluable contribution as did, too, the security guards and cleaners.

The palace now

The An Dinh Palace is open once again to Vietnamese and international tourists. Today, entering the grounds from Nguyen Hué Street via what was originally the rear gate, one can revel in lotus ponds and beautiful trees before reaching the main building. The restored palace is used also as a venue for cultural events. Like the ancient Citadel and the mausoleums of the Nguyen emperors, it ranks among the sights of which the people of Hué are rightly very proud.
Open to the public Tuesday–Sunday. Closed on Mondays.