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Huge evacuation for Hue citadel

(No.1, Vol.9,Feb-Mar 2019 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)


Photo: Vinh Huong


Photo: Le Huy Hoang Hai


Photo: Le Huy Hoang Hai


Hue has been one of the most popular destinations in Vietnam. It represents the country’s Central region, similar to Hanoi for the North and HCM City for the South.
Visitors to Vietnam’s former imperial capital city come to see the face of its prominent relic system – the imperial citadel. Few people know about a community of 15,700 residents living on the top of the citadel walls as well as several other citadel relics.
Local authorities have recently determined a six-year evacuation plan to move those residents out of the relics starting in March, expecting to ensure the best conservation for imperial relics and make way for initiatives to boost local tourism.
The geographical location of the city gives the clearest explanation for the natural immigration, from rural areas to an urban centre and from the less developed localities to a place with better living standards.
The immigration brought pressure to the infrastructure in the city. Those immigrants made use of public spaces for temporary housing as was hard to afford a private land plot for housing. The spacious blank wall-top surface and unused royal buildings were certainly feasible targets.
During the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945) the wall system was built to protect the citadel. The walls comprised three layers, with two brick layers and a 2m-wide layer of soil in the middle.
The illegal residents have different ways of occupying the walls. The majority of them have built concrete structures, breaking part of the wall to make entrance alleys. Many others construct temporary houses on top and ladders to reach them. Others have made use of collapsed sections, clearing the debris for housing or demolishing them to construct homes.
There were several causes for this legal recognition, including the turmoil before Liberation Day in 1975. At that time, many lost their homes; thus they made use of the top of the wall to resettle.
Misunderstanding of the Nguyen Dynasty’s role in Vietnamese history was another cause. From 1945 until the 1990s, the dynasty was blamed for the country’s failure in defending against the French colonists and the royal buildings were destroyed in a campaign aiming to erase the signs of the feudalist era. Weak management of the relics facilitated the strong growth of the wall-top community.
In 1993, local authorities came up with the evacuation idea to move those residents, a move to manage the compliance to the UNESCO commitments on relic conservation.
Authorities at that time, however, were reluctant to enforce, making the informal community bigger. Children of the first generation on wall-top community grew up, got married and had their own families. Once again, they developed more houses on the wall after splitting from their parent’s homes.
The city was devastated in 1999 by a flood. Afterwards, there was a surge of people to settle on the wall. Some of them had lost their homes and boats during the flood. Others decided to live on the wall top for safety.
By 2011, local authorities had managed to evacuate only 220 families. However, many wall-top residents refused to resettle in a poorly-built apartment block located on the outskirts of the city.
The large number of illegal residents has caused damage to the wall. Wastewater and farming activities on the top of the wall have also caused erosion. According to a report by Hue Monuments Conservation Centre, the local government body managing all relics built by the dynasty in the city, the illegal lodgings have created critical pollution inside the citadel as well as causing floods, as many lakes in the citadel were filled in for illegal buildings. The centre’s director Phan Thanh Hai said living on the wall is a violation of laws protecting heritage sites.
This year, local authorities are much more determined. They will start the first evacuation by removing 523 families on the walltop to a planned place. They have a bigger plan to evacuate all of 4,200 households lodging on the relics and expect the job will complete in 2026. Estimates costs for the plan reaches US$118 million, coming from both local and governmental budgets. According to the province People’s Committee, authorities are working hard for site clearance of 9.9ha of land, which is reserved for resettlement for the first 523 residents to move in.
The committee’s speaker said these illegal residents are not entitled to compensation under Vietnamese land use law. However, due to the historical situation and the large number of the residents, local authorities had to create a special plan to free them from the heritage walls.
Most of the residents were delighted to hear of the resettlement plan, which will help them move out of their uncomfortably small homes, where waste disposal is difficult and the alleys become smelly.
Ms Doan Hue, 71 year old, said: “I support totally the evacuation plan and have dreamed of a better life from the plan to get out of the small house and the odour from inescapable waste water.” Other residents said they felt okay with the life there on the wall-top community, but expected that the plan would be good for their children and grandchildren.
The residents’ great expectations, however, could make the resettlement project more complicated. The costs could be higher than what was projected, because all residents interviewed said they wanted to move to a single land plot of their own, not to an apartment complex. Mr Tran Luong, a 77-year-old resident, said: “I will definitely refuse to move to an apartment.”
Expectations by the residents have made the situation much harder. Mr Tran Thuc, 80, said he needed sound funds to return the land and also wanted new jobs for himself, his wife and son. Thuc considered the farming on the walls legal as local authorities themselves have formed a cooperative to do cultivation on the walls since 1976 and he was a member.
The People’s Committee and local Tourism Department, however, look on the bright side. According to Nguyen Van Phuc, the department’s vice director, the department has proposed a sightseeing tour programme making use of the walls’ top. “Travel agents have suggested biking tours on the walls and they’re quite feasible.”
People in the city are looking forward to the progresses of the evacuation plan to beautify the city. Many of them also wanted fairness to those residents who had to move.


Text by Hoa Ha
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