Category: Hoi An.

Hoi An: About

Hoi An ancient town is a special example of a traditional trading port in South-East Asia which has been completely and assiduously preserved: it is the only town in Vietnam that has survived intact in this way. Most of the buildings in Hoi An are in the traditional architectural style of the 18th to 20th centuries. They are aligned along narrow lanes of traditional type. They include many religious buildings, such as pagodas, temples, meeting houses, etc, which relate to the development of the development of a port community. The traditional life-style, religion, customs, and cooking have been preserved and many festivals still take place annually.


Archaeological finds and excavations have shown that there was a port and trading centre of the local Sa Huynh people along the Thu Bon river as early as the 2nd century BC. This continued to expand, and by the 15th century Hoi An (known in Vietnam and abroad under various names – Fayfo, Haifo, Kaifo, Faifoo, Faicfo, Hoai Pho) was already the most important port of the powerful Champa Kingdom. It continued after the Vietnamese absorption of the Champa Kingdom in the same capacity, becoming one of the most important centres of mercantile, and hence cultural, exchange in South-East Asia, attracting ships and traders from elsewhere in Asia and from Europe, especially during its most flourishing period from the late 16th century to the early 18th century. It was through Hoi An that Christianity penetrated Vietnam in the 17th century.

It retained its role as the main port of the central region throughout the 19th century, when the Nguyen dynasty kings operated a “closed trade policy.” By the end of the century, the rise of other ports on the coast of Vietnam, in particular Da Nang, and silting of its harbour, led to the final eclipse of Hoi An. As a result of this economic stagnation, it has preserved its early appearance in a remarkably intact state.

The ancient town, nominated for inscription on the World Heritage List, is situated on the north bank of the Thu Bon river and covers an area of 0.3km2 (300m by 1000m). There is a street running east-west along the river’s edge and three further streets parallel to the river. They are intersected at right-angles by streets and alleys. Within this area there are houses (often combined with shops), religious monuments such as pagodas, temples, communal houses, and family cult houses, a ferry quay, and an open market.

The architecture of Hoi An, which is entirely of wood, is of considerable interest. It combines traditional Vietnamese designs and techniques with those from other countries, whose citizens settled there to trade and built houses and community centres to their own designs. These influences came principally from China, but Japanese styles can also be discerned in certain details.

The typical house conforms with a corridor plan, the following elements occurring in sequence: house, yard, house. They are of timber-framed construction with brick or wooden walls. There are several forms of roof timbering, showing influences from various regions. The houses are tiled and the wooden components are carved with traditional motifs.

Family cult houses, dedicated to the worship of ancestors, consist of two parts, one behind the other coming from the street. They are distinguished from one another by the roof support system adopted. Between them two small side buildings form a small courtyard.
The community houses, used for worship of ancient sages, founders of settlements, or the legendary founders of crafts, are single rectangular timber-framed structures. Those that survive are mostly from the 19th century.

Like the community houses, the pagodas are almost all from the 19th century, though inscriptions show them to have been founded in the 17th and 18th centuries. They conform with a square layout and decoration is largely confined to the elaborate roofs. In the case of the larger examples, they constituted nuclei of associated buildings with religious and secular functions. For example, some of the larger pagodas also served as meeting halls. These are located along the main street (Tran Phu). Small wooden buildings with structures similar to those of the cult houses were used as ancestral and community shrines. Two of them are associated with pagodas.

There is a fine wooden bridge, reminiscent of Japanese examples, with a pagoda on it. It has existed from at least the early 18th century, as an inscription indicates, but it has been reconstructed many times.
There is a number of ancient tombs within the buffer zone. These are in Vietnamese, Japanese, and Chinese style, reflecting the wide trading connections and ethnic origins of the inhabitants of Hoi An.

The survey of important historic buildings carried out in 1993-95 shows that there are eighteen community houses, fourteen pagodas and shrines, five meeting (or office) halls, nineteen cult houses, and fifteen large tombs. In their present form most of these date to the 19th century, but a considerable proportion have earlier features going back to the 17th and 18th centuries. In addition to these exceptional buildings, the majority of the domestic architecture is in traditional form – wooden structures with tiled roofs.

Category: Hoi An
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