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 that 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.
The first discoveries and studies were made by some French scholars. However, initially, some of them thought that it was at the date of Tang dynasty, Dai La arts.
Since 1979, many big scaled excavations have been implemented. The 12/2012 excavation there has secured new information for the ceramics and terra-cotta. Up to 11/2003, 17.000 sq. meters have been excavated in a whole area of 22.400m2.
The initial discoveries have revealed the archaeological cultural layer in a depth of 0,9m -4,2m. The cultural layer contained the ruins of brick foundation, the column stone base; water well, drainage pipe, tomb and millions of terra-cotta, ceramic and metal wares... Those are regarded as a critical part in the prospect of a valuable cultural heritage of Thang Long Imperial Citadel.
The excavations have brought a lot of knowledge about the ancient buildings of Thang Long citadel:
The Quan Ngua area used to be the residential district instead of being the heart of Thang Long Imperial Citadel.
In 1996, at 11 Le Hong Phong, where later became the International Conference Center, the Vietnam Institute of Archaeology had carried out an emergency excavation on 30 sq. meters. A number of objects were found including bricks, tiles, ceramics, porcelains, metal and stone dating Ly Dynasty. The red tube tiles in 39cm length. The tiles were used for building the roof's edge where need to be beautifully decorated. The head of the tile was decorated with an 8 petals lotus. The tile was attached with a bodhi leaf or ducks. Inside the bodhi leaf pattern, there is a couple of phoenix flanking to a small flame.
In 1997, the Vietnam Institute of Archaeology excavated a hole to survey at 5 Hoang Dieu. There found the tiles with lotus decoration as same as that of 11 Le Hong Phong. Particularly, there found the crocodile statue made of sandstone similar to that of Ba Tam and Huong Lang pagodas (Ly Dynasty).
In 1998, Vietnam Institute of Archaeology collaborated with Management Board of Relics and Landscape (Hanoi) to take a survey and excavation at the sites of Hau Lau, Doan Mon and Bac Mon. At Hau Lau site, they discovered the cultural layer in 2-3m thickness, ruins of lakes and ponds. Some broken pieces of architectural materials were found including floor tiles with decoration of lotus, rosette flower, bodhi leaf, duck statues.
In 1999, at Bac Mon (West: 35m2, South: 20m2) they found floor tiles and roof tiles with lotus decoration. At Doan Mon (East: 48m2, West: 85,2m2), they found the floor tiles with lotus decoration, roof tile, bodhi leaf and duck statues...
Thang Long Citadel used to be a place for royal families of Ly Dynasty. That's why there left many kind of bricks and tiles and architectural materials. Many terra-cotta materials are carved beautifully. Let's review some kind of bricks and tiles as follows:
- Bricks in rectangular shape, faded red. One side was inscribed by Han characters meaning "the brick to build the citadel of Dai Viet". This type of brick had been discovered in Hoa Lu (Ninh Binh) in 10th century, now in Ba Dinh (2003).
- Square brick, faded red, one side with inscription of Han characters meaning "manufactured in the 4th year of Long Thuy Thai Binh reign, the 3rd throne of Ly Dynasty, 1057". This kind of brick had been found in Phat Tich site (Tien Du, Bac Ninh) and Tuong Long Tower (Do Son, Haiphong), now in Ba Dinh (2003).
- The floor tiles in square shape were found in Quan Ngua, Hau Lau, Bac Mon and Doan Mon. Size 40cm x 40cm x 7cm & 38cm x 36cm x 6cm, embossed patterns. Some tiles are similar to that found in Hoa Lu ancient citadel.
+ Type 1: A blossomed lotus decoration is embossed in the heart of the tile, 4 butterflies at every corner. The edge is covered by the interwoven "S" character decoration.
+ Type 2: A couple of embossed phoenix is decorated in the heart. Four stylized leafs are embossed to the corners. The edge is covered by the interwoven "S" character. This type is representative for construction materials of Dinh-Tien Le dynasties. Some archaeologists judged that those tiles were moved from Hoa Lu in 1010.
Other types of floor tiles were also found there, such as:
+ Type 1: 5 flowers of lotus are embossed in 2 circles. 4 leafs are embossed to the corners.
+ Type 2: 5 flowers are embossed in a circle in the center. The flowers have the line and small leafs. 4 similar but tiny flowers are also embossed at the corners.
- The bricks with dragon decoration in square and rectangular shape (45cm x 30cm), triangular shape, with dragon design as same as that of Ly Dynasty, 11th – 13th centuries.
- The rectangular bricks (D:18,2cm; R:17cm), with embossed dragon pattern inside a budhi leaf, can be wall tiles, now preserved and displayed at the VNMH Museum.
- The floor tiles in square shape in Tran Dynasty have the size as same as that of the Ly Dynasty but with simpler patterns. For example, the brick with rosette design and flowers in the interwoven circles, similar to the bricks found in Tran Dynasty's relics including Loc Vuong (Nam Dinh), Tam Duong (Thai Binh), Kiep Bac (Hai Duong) and Ly Cung (Thanh Hoa).
In Ly Cung (Thanh Hoa), we found the floor square brick. It is embossed by a circle inside a square, with 4 bodhi leafs at the corners, surrounding by 4 arcs and a half part of a flower.
(To be continued)
Dr. Nguyen Dinh Chien (Former Deputy Director of VNMH Museum)
EN: Tran Trang