Lam Kinh – Back to origins of the later Le dynasty

Curated by BuffaloTripApril 22, 2015 Viewed: 1337

After ten years of the war of resistance against the Ming aggressors (1418 –1427) and building an independent country, the leader of the Lam Son insurrection, the hero Le Loi was officially enthroned, set up the capital in Dong Do (also known as Thang Long) and started a new dynasty for the feudal – the Le dynasty. To commemorate his homeland and also the revolutionary base of the Lam Son insurrection, emperor Le Loi built the monument in the sacred land of Lam Son, called Lam Kinh today.

From Lam Son to Lam Kinh

The Lam Kinh historical vestige is located in Xuan Lam, Tho Xuan, Thanh Hoa province, about 50km from Thanh Hoa city in the northwest. This is a historical place, ranked as a national historical monument in 1962.

The area of Lam Kinh has no detailed information in writeen history nor has it been specified clearly in history and its archaeological objects. According to Vietnamese history, Lam Kinh was a vast land with forests, mountains, rivers and villages including citadels, ramparts and palaces. Lam Kinh was not an urban city. The word “Kinh” expressed the respect and honour to the homeland of the King.

Lam Kinh did not have a sacrificial altar as in Dong Do (Thang  Long) or Tay Do citadel (The Ho citadel – Vinh Loc – Thanh Hoa) and in Hue of the Nguyen dynasty, therefore, it was not a capital city of Dai Viet.Today, the historical vestige Lam Kinh covers an area of about 200ha, including royal tombs, temples, ramparts and royal stop-over places of the Le dynasty when paying a visit to their ancestors.

Lam Kinh architecture

Lam Kinh was built based on the theory of fengshui, which can be seen in its aspects and arrangement of the whole architecture. This arrangement that relied on the geographical condition and advantages of the nature is very harmonious. The main hall had the Chu river in front, flowing from the west to the east. From the centre of the Lam Kinh temple, to the southwest, we can see Muc Son mountain, next to the right bank of the Chu river,to the southeast, the Chu mountain in the Chu river left bank. In the East stands Phu Lam forest and Ngoc mountain to create the left blue dragon; in the West is Huong and Ham Rong mountains to create the right white tiger. From behind (the North) is the Dau mountain playing a role as the protector. Forests and mountains in this sacred land with extraordinary people are magnificent and exotic.

Lam Kinh has been repaired many times:

- In 1429, King Le Thai To visited Son Lang for the first time. In 1433, when the King died and was buried in Lam Son with the gravestone of Vinh Lang, Lam Kinh temple was built.

- In September 1434, King Le Thai Tong ordered theofficial, Nguyen Nhu Lam to build an imperial temple in Lam Kinh. In November 1434, Lam Kinh was burned.

- In September 1448, King Le Nhan Tong issued an edict to sublieutenant Le Kha to repair the temples in Lam Kinh. In 1456, King Le Nhan Tong named three main temples in Lam Kinh – Quang Duc, Sung Hieu and Dien Khanh.

- In 1466, King Le Thanh Tong built temples to worship the Dowager and Queen in Lam Kinh temple.

- In 1531, most of Lam Kinh temple was burned by the Mac in the war Le – Mac.

- After taking the throne from the Mac dynasty (1533 – 1789), the Le dynasty repaired Lam Kinh many more times.

- In 1789, when the Tay Son insurgent army went to the North for the third time to drive out the Man Thanh aggressor, Lam Kinh was burned again.  

- After becoming a King and ruling the Nguyen dynasty (1802), King Gia Long Nguyen Anh built the Hoang Duc temple in Kieu Dai, Bo Ve, Bo Duc, Dong Son (or Thanh Hoa city) to worship the Le dynasty’s Kings and Queens and moved the temple in Lam Kinh and architectures in Thang Long to Phu Xuan (Hue). At that time, Lam Kinh became more devastated.

According to history and archaeology, the structure and architecture of the Lam Kinh temple was once splendid.

The Lam Kinh temple was built according to East &West axis’ with the length of 314m, the width of 254m and the thickness of 1m with the Southern gate. Passing through the gate about 10m, Ngoc river surrounds the temple with the White Bridge to cross it. About 50m from the bridge, an ancient well named Pearl well sits in front of the Nghi Mon gate, to the left of the entrance. Nghi Mon is the gate to the Dragon yard with three gates, in which the middle one is 3.5m width; the other two have the width of 2.7m. The gate is guarded by two stone lions. The Dragon yard extends the width of the chamber.  The Dragon veranda floor has three paths, in which the middle one is 1.8m wide and the other two 1.2m. Dragons in the middle path are carved with the body winding and patterns of fires, a mane on the head and a curved beard. The dragons’ hands, which are the same as human’s ones, holding their beard.  Dragons on the edges have the shape of stylized clouds. The ground of the temple is 1.8m higher than the Dragon yard. Quang Duc (in front, 9 spaces), Sung Hieu (in the middle, 4 spaces) and Dien Khanh (on the back, 9 spaces) temples were built in the “Gong” shape. There are 22 spaces with the whole area of 1,650 square meters.

On the back of Lam Kinh locates Cuu Mieu (nine temples) with the bow-shaped structure. This place was constructed to worship kings, queens and royal family. In addition, a 50-meter wall, which was built on the back of the architecture, was the fence of the temple. This temple was the worship place, where the King from Dong Do celebrated all rituals while visiting. Outside the temple is the permanent apparatus that has the mission of protecting the temple. The Kings and Queens’ tombs are mostly gathered in the northeast of Lam Kinh temple. Le Thai To’s grave was built in the main path behind the temple.

It is a pity that most of Lam Kinh temple was damaged. After 600 years with severe weather conditions and wars, the splendid architecture became ruins. Walls were broken; Nghi Mon was devastated; temples and Cuu Mieu (nine temples) also remain. Some structures have been repaired such as Ngoc bridge, Nghi Mon and Cuu Mieu. Some vestiges that can be seen today are the Dragon veranda floor.

Remaining vestiges and permanent values

Artistic values of the Lam Kinh temple are also seen through remaining vestiges and materials, which were excavated by archaeologists although it was vastly damaged. Five graves of the Kings and one of the Queen Mother of the Le dynasty are also found in the temple: Vinh Lang (tomb of King Le Thai To), Huu Lang (tomb of King Le Thai Tong), Chieu Lang (tomb of King Le Thanh Tong), Khon Nguyen Chi Duc (tomb of Queen Mother Ngo Thi Ngoc Dao, King Le Thanh Tong’s mother), Du Lang (tomb of King Le Hien Tong) and Kinh Lang (tomb of King Le Tuc Tong). Tombs of the Le dynasty are well-located and plainly built. They include three main parts: steles(?) in front of the tomb come to two lines of stone statues and the tombs themselves.  The tomb of King Le Thai To (Vinh Lang), situated behind Lam Kinh temple, is simple. Therefore, tombs of other Kings were also constructed modestly.

One of untouched vestiges and the most valued in Lam Kinh is Vinh Lang. The stele is located in the southwest of Lam Kinh and made of monolithic sediment with the height of 2.97m, width of 1.94m and thickness of 0.27m. It is on the back of a big turtle, which is 3.46m length, 1.9m width and 0.94m height. Vinh Lang stele is sophisticatedly decorated with skillful sculptures. In it is carved five words: “Lam Son Vinh Lang stele”. A short and succinct epitaph, written by Nguyen Trai, on Vinh Lang summarizes the career and praises the merit of King Le Thai To. The present stele was rebuilt in 1961 in the Le dynasty’s design.

Lam Kinh is where hero Le Loi and many Kings and Queen Mothers of the later Le dynasty lie at rest forever.

Lam Kinh is the original point of the later Le dynasty, the longest feudal reign in Vietnam (1428 – 1789).  It is a place to worship our ancestors. Lam Kinh also manifests the indomitable spirit of the Lam Son insurrection led by Le Loi.