Mỹ Sơn (IPA: mǐˀ səːn) is a set of ruins from the ancient Cham Empire in the central coast of Vietnam. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which is commonly visited as a day trip from Hoi An and Danang cities.
It is believed to be the longest inhabited archaeological site in Indochina. Much of the site was destroyed by US carpet bombing during the Second Indochina War (US: Vietnam War; Vietnam: American War.) It is considered one of the foremost Hindu temple complexes in Southeast Asia, and one of the most important heritage sites of this nature in Vietnam.
Mỹ Sơn is a Hindu temple complex built by the Champa, a united kingdom of various tribes of the Cham ethnic group. The Champa ruled South and Central Vietnam from the 3rd century until 1832. Upon their succession, Champa kings would build temple complexes at Mỹ Sơn.
The Champa people were predominately Hindus, and the temples at Mỹ Sơn are dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva. The earliest temples were built of wood in the 4th century. These structures were destroyed by a massive fire, the exact cause of which is unknown. Subsequent kings rebuilt these temples in wood, then close-fitted bricks with no mortar, and finally in limestone. The majority of the surviving structures are Mỹ Sơn are brick.
Between the 4th and 14th century, the Champa kings built at least 70 structures in the area, some times on top of the ruins of previous structures. These structures were decorated with sculptures of gods, priests, sacred animals (dragons, snakes, lions, elephants), and scenes of mythical battles. In addition to being a place of worship, kings and religious leaders were interred here.
In 1832, the Champa were annexed by the Vietnamese Emperor Minh Mang, and the Mỹ Sơn temple complex was largely forgotten and was reclaimed by the jungle. In 1898, the Frenchman M.C. Paris rediscovered the complex during the French occupation of Vietnam. This led to the study and partial restoration of the site by the École française d’Extrême-Orient and other scholarly societies. Frenchmen Henri Parmentier and M.L. Finot are credited with extensively documenting the site as it existed at the time, including copious photographs.
The documentation of the French scholars became especially important after the outbreak of the Second Indochina War (called the “Vietnam War” in the United States, and the “American War” in Vietnam.) The communist Viet Cong, who supported North Vietnam, took shelter in the ruins. In response, US B-52 aircraft carpet-bombed the region extensively for a week in August of 1969. As a result of this bombing, only 18 structures remain of the 70 or so originally documented by the French.
Today, efforts are under way to preserve and restore the temples to the conditions documented by the French in the early 20th century. These restoration efforts involve the use of materials that is as similar as possible to those used by the original Champa architects. The restored sections of temples are readily visible and obviously distinguishable from the original sections, as the modern bricks are cleaner and a noticeably different color.