By the end of the 19th century and early 20th century, many excavations on the ancient citadel of Thang Long had been deployed. Many objects made of ceramic and terra-cotta were discovered and sent to the Louis Finot Museum, now the Vietnam National Museum of History. Many are inscribed with the place of origin as Quan Ngua, Ngoc Ha, Van Phuc, Huu Tiep, Kim Ma, Cong Vi, Lieu Giai and bearing the characteristics of Ly-Tran Dynasties. Many objects of which have been registered as the national treasures and now are on display at the permanent exhibition system of the VNMH Museum.
- Stupa construction bricks: Not any stupa was found in Thang Long citadel but there was one called Bao Thien stupa as in ancient inscriptions. To which, the Bao Thien stupa was built in Ly Dynasty, and it was compared to that of Phat Tich (Bac Ninh), Chuong Son (Nam Dinh), Long Doi (Ha Nam), Tuong Long (Hai Phong). Also, in Tran Dynasty, there was no stupa as big as of Binh Son (Vinh Phuc) or Pho Minh (Nam Dinh). However, the construction bricks to build it have already been found. Some sample of bricks made of terra-cotta and pottery are preserved at the VNMH Museum.
- The terra-cotta bricks, rectangular, red color, 16cm long, 13,5cm wide, one side is carved by a couple of dragon, and a couple of phoenix with tails curving in a shape of budha leaf. The pattern is representative for Ly Dynasty.
- Construction bricks to build the stupa in Tran Dynasty, 32cm long, 15cm wide, dark red, with an embossed tiger and mushroom shape waves pattern. The tiger is standing, with the tail is curved as going to jump up.
- The white glazed construction bricks have two types:
+ Type 1: Rectangular, one side is embossed by a couple of dragons curved in a rectangular shape surrounded by budha leafs, lotus petals, waves, the lower part is embossed by fat lotus petals, and 7 fairy ladies are dancing with flowers held in their hands. The VNMH Museum has recently collected a pottery stupa model with the lower part is decorated by similar fairies patterns. Among the objects found in Ba Dinh site (2003), the fairy decorations are found at the base of the stupa.
+ Type 2: Round brick, one side is carved by Ly dragons, curving and surrounded by daisy line and question mark patterns.
- The terra-cotta bricks discovered in Duc Giang town, Gia Lam, Hanoi by 1993 disclosed a fact that there used to be a stupa in Ly Dynasty there. The finding location is previously O Cach village, Viet Hung commune. The objects were found accidentally by local people who constructed the pond, including 5 pieces of terra cotta bricks.
- The decorative sculptures made of terra-cotta are first time discovered.
For example, a lady statue (15cm x 17cm x 11cm) but losing her head, knees on a rectangular base.
Another, a terra-cotta block comprising of two round lotus statues in red color is found there too. Each statue has 3 layers of lotus. The bigger one is 50 cm diameter; each layer has 14 long lotus petals. It is empty inside, with 3 small holes at the bottom. A tube column is constructed at the middle inside to serve as a base for the smaller one. The smaller has a diameter of 30cm and 10 long slim lotus petals. Is it a base of a Buddhist statue that was placed inside the stupa?
- Pottery stupa model: Beside a pottery stupa model of Ly Dynasty that VNHM Museum collected from an individual in Hanoi (it is being exhibited at Ly Dynasty history showcase now at the museum), there is a celadon stupa model available at the museum. According to the reserved data, this model was found at Bat Trang village. The stupa is 26,5cm high, 21,5cm wide. It has a square body, arch doors at 4 sides, carves 8 Kim Cuong statues, and decorations of rosette, budha leaf, lotus. The stupa is covered by light yellow celadon glazed.
- The Bat Trang white porcelain stupa model: There is no document saying where it is now. According to Nguyen Ba Lang, it is a collection owned by Do Dinh Thuat, discovered in Dai La. The tower is 1,05m high without counting for the broken parts. If we compare its design drawing with the plate of stupa model in Cho pagoda (conserved at Vinh Phu Museum), we found some similarities regarding their styles:
They are square, small at the top, big at the lower. Particularly the base pattern looks same. The base is decorated with up and down lotus petals, smooth surfaces, curved dragon image inside a rectangular square that carved two arch doors, 8 Kim Cuong statues stand, the Buddhist sit on the lotus for meditation...
But the Bat Trang tower model is white glazed while Cho tower model is brown glazed, celadon glazed and white glazed. In my opinion, this stupa is an outstanding artwork in Tran Dynasty made in Thang Long.
- A base of stupa in square shape, side 36cm is preserved at A dam Malik Museum (Jarkata, Indonesia). It has two lotus bands with smooth surface and a budha leaf band carved by rhino horn and pearl. This stupa can be originated from Thang Long citadel.
- Terra cotta dragon head and phoenix head: are decorative objects constructed at roof's edge and ridge - tile. Hundreds of pieces of terra cotta decorative objects were found at Thang Long site and now preserved at the VNMH Museum. Some of them are in good condition. The dragon head has a long mane, curved, hold pearl in the mouth, carved by twist and lozenge shape patterns.
- The terra cotta duck statues are constructed at the ridge tile and found in Dinh - Early Le Dynasties in Hoa Lu (Ninh Binh). The ducks raise their heads up; close the wings, bended tails. The duck statues in Long Hung site (Thai Binh) dating Tran Dynasty had same style. In Doan Mon and Hau Lau site (1999), we discovered 13 duck statues with similar style to that of Ly Dynasty but smaller size and with simpler patterns.
- A terra cotta military officer statue constructed at the ridge tile: The man stands upright, wears a hat with a lion face, his body is carved by lozenge shape and budha leaf. The base of statue is a curved ridge tile. The statue is 27cm high, dating Tran Dynasty, 13th – 14th centuries. Is it a decorative object at the house's roof owned by a military officer in Thang Long citadel?
- Terra cotta decorative statues in 2 types:
+ Type 1: dragon statues constructed at the ridge tile, carved hole in the body, the head has a high wave style mane, holds pearl in the mouth, the base in a form of leaf band constructed on the curved rectangular tile.
+ Type 2: Phoenix statues, raised head, opened wings, curved tail, on a base in a form of leaf.
+ Type 3: The terracotta buddha leaf constructed at the tube tile. One side is embossed by 2 dragons bounding at a pearl in a stylized form of a buddha leaf, surrounded by the flame.
- Terra cotta ceramic statues: can be valuated as artworks. However, those kinds of statues are found in a limited quantity but it shows the existence of sculptural arts in Ly - Tran Dynasties.
- A terracotta fairy statue is found at Ngoc Ha site. It is a broken statue, 7,5cm high, 7,7cm wide, carved a female dancer. The lady has an oval face, on her forehead and chest carving small circles, right arm put on the chest.
At Quan Ngua site, had found two Buddhist head statues, 8,2cm - 9,2cm. One with a lotus at the top, other has a lotus hat.
A lion statue kneeing on a rectangular base, red color, 16,4 cm high, terra cotta, dating Ly Dynasty, 11th – 13th centuries. The body is carved with spot and twisting band.
A piece of base of Buddhist statue, terra cotta, 13cm high, 27,5cm wide, 3 steps, embossed lotus band and kneeing man as Apsara fairy. From this piece, we can think of a Buddhist statue (that the base holds) in octagonal shape, with lotus and fairy decorations, popular in Ly Dynasty.
All above objects are preserved and displayed at the VNMH Museum, Ly Dynasty exhibition.
Dr. Nguyen Dinh Chien (Former Deputy Director, VNMH Museum)
EN: Tran Trang