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Buildings out of time

(No.5, Vol.8,Oct-Nov Vietnam Heritage Magazine)








Standing on the banks of the Saigon River, the village of Phu Long Temple belongs to Lai Thieu Commune of Thuan An Township, Binh Duong Province.
According to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism website, in 2001, Phu Long Temple was recognized as a national historic and cultural relic and a significant work of antiquity.
Binh Duong Province has many temples, but Phu Long is among the first ones to be recognized as a national relic, and the only one to be considered as a work of architecture and art. Perhaps that is because the temple was built in a region which has many ceramic and porcelain trade villages that used to be famous all over the South.
Phu Long Temple is dedicated to the tutelary god of the village, the Lady of the Five Elements (who maintains favorable living conditions for the people), the god of agriculture, the Tiger Lord and the ancestors that founded the village.
The website of the Binh Duong Province History Science Association recounts that Phu Long Temple was built in 1842, initially with bamboo, soil and thatch. In 1865, it was rebuilt with bricks, timber and ceramics. The temple was renovated in 1935 and 1997, but today it still retains all the architectural features of the 1865 renovation.
The temple was built in letter san (三 ) formation, which means it has front, middle and rear edifices standing in parallel so that roofs lie atop roofs and floor succeeds floor. The buildings of Phu Long Temple, with a total area of 1,258 m2, stand in the middle of a 1 ha garden.
A permanent outdoor stage where classical opera for the purpose of entertaining the deities is also a significant part of the temple.
The temple is completely roofed with double tiles. The roof tops and corners are decorated with statues in the themes of ‘two dragons competing for a pearl’, kylins, tortoises, phoenixes, carps turning into dragons, sun and moon.
The whole façades of the Phu Long buildings are inlaid with countless colorful pieces of ceramics. The beauty of the mosaic is witness to the tremendous skills and imagination of the ancient artisans.
The temple’s interior is decorated with many carvings and reliefs on the themes of dragons, kylins, carps turning into dragons, orchids, daisies, pomegranates, grapes and bananas. Decorations on these themes also cover all the spaces between the front, middle and rear edifices.
The most admirable items inside the temple are the three wooden altars meticulously carved with many classical patterns.
According to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism website, Phu Long Temple currently retains hundreds of invaluable antique relics, most notably a conferment letter by King Tu Duc, 20 pairs of nacre inlaid parallel sentences, 8 lacquered and gold plated horizontal boards, 3 brass censers, tens of statues of phoenixes standing on a tortoise (a symbol of longevity) and palanquins.
Ever since its inauguration, every 17th and 18th days of the eighth lunar calendar month, Phu Long Temple hosts a Ky Yen ceremony, which is a ritual to pray to the local deities for peace and prosperity. The most special part of the ceremony is the performance of a piece of classical opera dedicated to the divine spirits.





Text by Khanh Le; Photos by Nguyen Viet Binh
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