The temple town of My Son is located in a picturesque valley in central Vietnam about 50km southeast of Hoi An. There are about 70 temples of the Cham culture from the 4th to 14th century.
The temple town of My Son ("Beautiful Mountain") is located in Quang Nam province in central Vietnam about 50km southeast of Hôi An and only a few kilometres from the coast. The colossal stone buildings are overgrown with ferns and moss and were unfortunately largely destroyed during the Vietnam War.
Table of contents
PICTURES: Temple City My Son
Photo gallery: Temple city My Son
Its countless temples were built between the 4th and 14th centuries by the Cham culture as a religious and cultural centre, about 70 of which have been preserved as ruins to this day. Since 1999, it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a symbol of Hindu cultural exchange.
The Cham culture developed on the coast of Vietnam from about the 2nd century AD. The Indian influence is clearly visible in My Son. Not only in art and architecture, but also in beliefs, some things were taken over from India, for example the worship of the Hindu god Shiva.
Exploring the Temple City of My Son
The temple town of My Son is picturesquely situated in a valley almost 2 kilometres wide against the backdrop of two rugged mountain ranges. The buildings, overgrown with ferns, lianas and moss in the middle of the Vietnamese jungle, exert a very special charm.
The systematic exploration of My Son began in 1899 by the French archaeologist Henri Parmentier. He located 71 temples, which he divided into an elaborate system of 14 groups and labelled with combinations of numbers and letters. Group A mainly features stone reliefs, the highlight of Group B is an impressive gate, Group C shows elaborate Cham motifs in the brick walls and in Group D there is the stelae courtyard with the offering tablets to admire.
Masterful sculptures and ornaments
The rust-red temple towers were similar to Mayan buildings in South America, built on red bricks that were joined together without joints. Decorations were engraved directly into the stone in a process that is still unclear today.
The façades are bursting with masterfully crafted stone sculptures, ornaments and plant vines. The temple complex was used to worship the god Shiva, who was mostly known to the Cham as Bhadresvara. 4 different types of buildings have been identified.
The tower-shaped "kalans" housed the gods, a "mandapa" served as a vestibule, a "gopura" as the entrance tower to a walled temple complex, and in the gabled-roofed "kosagrha" the gods' belongings were kept and their meals prepared. Religious ceremonies were also held for the Cham kings, just as some of their rulers and national heroes were buried in My Son.
Destruction in the Vietnam War
During the Vietnam War, My Son was not spared. Resistance fighters entrenched themselves between the historic temples and the area became a "free-fire zone". Due to the US shelling, a total of 50 of the approximately 70 remaining temples were severely damaged or completely destroyed within only one week.
Among the structures destroyed was a famous 24-metre-high tower engraved with elaborate images of lions and elephants. More of the 32 stelae from the 5th to 12th centuries with historically important inscriptions in Sanskrit and Cham were also lost. The bomb craters are still visible today.
Reconstruction of the temple complex
Reconstruction is underway, but it has not yet been possible to replicate the masterful architecture of the Cham. As soon as mortar was used, this led to moss growth that overgrew the temple complexes. The excavation and renovation project in My Son started in 2002 and is supported by UNESCO with 70,000 US dollars.
Tip: To this day, countless landmines are hidden under the My Son area, so do not leave the marked paths under any circumstances!