SAH Blog

  • Byzantium on the Adriatic: From Ravenna to Poreč

    By
    Patricia Blessing, 2014 H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellow
     |
    Aug 4, 2015
    My journey begins in Italy, in the city of Ravenna where I have spent time before. Planning my itinerary for July and August, it was a convenient point of departure for a round-trip overland (except for a ferry ride) that will take me to Croatia and Bosnia and will end in Venice. This is the first stop of an Adriatic itinerary that will take me from Italy to Poreč, inland to Zagreb, back to the coast in Split (Spalato), inland to Bosnia, to the coast in Dubrovnik (Ragusa), across the Adriatic to Bari, from there to Rome and finally to Venice. I will write about most of this journey in my post at the end of August, but now will start with Ravenna and Poreč, setting out some of the premises for my travels over the following weeks. Even though I specialize in Islamic art, I have strong interests in Byzantine and medieval architecture and hence have planned this trip which will allow me to see monuments that are not directly related to my research and have hence had to remain by the wayside so far. For this first blog entry, I will focus on monuments that are easily labeled late antique or Byzantine but, perhaps due to their respective locations in Italy and Croatia, are not such much at the center of attention as Byzantine architecture in Istanbul—Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman empire from the fourth century until 1453. But more about this later, in my winter 2016 posts from Turkey— now, I will turn to the fifth- and sixth-century monuments of Ravenna, many of which are part of the UNESCO World Heritage. From 540 until 752, Ravenna was the center of Byzantine territories in Italy. The city was closely connected to Constantinople, where mosaics predating the tenth century are exceedingly scarce. Hence, the monuments of Ravenna are essential for any study of fifth- and sixth-century Byzantine mosaics and their restoration, and they have in fact been the subject of many studies.

    PBlessing_July-2015_Figure-1

    Figure 1: San Vitale, Ravenna, view (P. Blessing)

    Visiting Ravenna, I move around the city and its major monuments with a fresh eye. The first stop is the sixth-century church of San Vitale (Figure 1). Inside church, the mosaic decoration has been preserved in the apse, but not in the dome (Figure 2).

    PBlessing_July-2015_Figure-2

    Figure 2: San Vitale, Ravenna, part of apse mosaic (left) and 18th-century paintings inside the dome (right)

    In both sides of the apse, mosaics show, to the left, the court of Byzantine emperor Justinian (r. 527–565) and, to the right, of his wife Theodora. Accompanying Justinian, we see bishop Maximianus during whose tenure (546–556) the mosaics were put in place (Figure 3). A detail of the court of empress Theodora shows the elaborate dresses and jewels with which both men and women of the court were represented (Figure 4).

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    Figure 3: San Vitale, Ravenna, mosaic showing Justinian’s court (P. Blessing)

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    Figure 4: San Vitale, Ravenna, mosaic showing detail of Theodora’s court; the empress is shown at far left (P. Blessing)

    The next stop, just behind San Vitale, is the mausoleum of Galla Placidia (Figure 5), a small structure that houses another example of the splendid mosaics that Ravenna is famous for, although this is even earlier than San Vitale. The mausoleum was built for Galla Placidia, a sister of Roman emperor Honorius who moved his capital to Ravenna. She died in Ravenna in 452 and her sarcophagus was placed in the small structure, under a mosaic sky with gold stars (Figure 6).

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    Figure 5: Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna, view (P. Blessing) 

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    Figure 6: Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, interior view of dome (P. Blessing)

    At the basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, mosaics extend along the upper section of the central nave and into the apse. Begun in 493, construction of the church dedicated to Ravenna’s patron continued into the early sixth century. Most notable—at least for historians of architecture— are the two representations of monuments that are included in these monuments. The first, to the right as one enters the church at its western end, is a symbolically complex representation of an imperial palace, one of many found in late antique and Byzantine art.1 Clearly labeled “Palatium” (palace, in Latin), the structure has open doors and windows with curtains flying in a light breeze (Figure 7).

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    Figure 7: Detail of mosaics in Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, showing palace (P. Blessing)

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    Figure 8: Detail of mosaics in Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, showing harbor of Classe (P. Blessing)

    Facing the representation of the palace is one of a fortified city and harbor (Figure 8). Shown here is the harbor of Classe, near Ravenna. Even though it is no longer directly on the sea nowadays due to changes in water levels and silting, Ravenna and its port of Classe were important naval bases in the fifth and sixth centuries. The port of Classe, a 15-minute drive from central Ravenna, is a major archaeological site. Together with local art historian and archaeologist Maria Cristina Carile, I was able to attend the opening of the Archaeological Park of Classe (Parco Archaeologico di Classe) (Figure 9).

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    Figure 9: Poster for Parco Archaeologico di Classe, opening events summer 2015.

    After viewing a brief video about the history of the site, visitors are able to walk along a path leading through the site. Illuminated at night, foundations of storage magazines in the port are visible, and reconstruction drawings printed on glass panels allow for an impression of the buildings as they may have stood (Figures 10 and 11). Due to summer heat, the site is only open in the evenings, but will be accessible during the day as of September 1.

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    Figure 10: Parco Archaeologico di Classe, view of site from visitor center (P. Blessing)

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    Figure 11: Parco Archaeologico di Classe, informative panel with architectural reconstruction (P. Blessing)

    Further down the road stands the basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, another sixth-century monument with rich mosaic decoration (Figure 12). With this, I take leave from Ravenna to move on to Croatia.

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    Figure 12: Sant’Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna, view towards apse (P. Blessing)

    From Ravenna, by train and bus, I travelled to Poreč, a seaside town that is brimming with visitors in the summer months, many of them attracted by the beaches and islands of Istria. The promenade along the peninsula where the old town is located features both remains of city-walls and late nineteenth-century villas and hotels (Figure 13). My main reason for visiting, however, was the Euphrasian Basilica and nearby episcopal palace (Figure 14). Originally built in the fourth century, the basilica received its current form and rich mosaic decoration (Figure 15) in the sixth century, during the tenure of bishop Euphrasisus. The palace was the residence of the bishop for Poreč
    for over 1300 years. Conservation and restoration program begun in 1989 when bishop’s residence and offices were moved to a new building nearby.2

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    Figure 13: Poreč, promenade along the old town (P. Blessing)

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    Figure 14: Euphrasian Basilica, Poreč, interior towards apse (P. Blessing)

    Henry Maguire and Ann Terry studied the mosaics were studied in detail beginning in 1997; one major difficulty was to determine the extent of several nineteenth-century restoration campaigns.3 As I was sitting in the basilica during a piano concert and recital that I had happened upon, I could not help admiring both the structure, and the gleaming gold of the mosaics, effective even with electric lighting, and think what the basilica would have looked like 1500 years ago.

    PBlessing_July-2015_Figure-15

    Figure 15: Euphrasian Basilica, Poreč, detail of sixth-century apse mosaic and thirteenth-century ciborium (P. Blessing)

    Selected Bibliography

    Carile, Maria Cristina. The Vision of the Palace of the Byzantine Emperors as a Heavenly Jerusalem. Studi e ricerche di archeologia e storia dell'art, 12. Spoleto: Fondazione Centro Italiano di Studi sull'alto Medioevo, 2012.

    Jäggi, Carola. Ravenna: Kunst und Kultur einer spätantiken Residenzstadt: Die Bauten Und Mosaiken des 5. und 6. Jahrhunderts. Regensburg: Schnell Steiner, 2013.

    Matejčić, Ivan. “The episcopal palace at Poreč: results of recent excavation and restauration,” Hortus Artium Medievalium 1 (1995): 84-89.

    Prelog, Milan. The Basilica of Euphrasius in Poreč. Zagreb: Associated Publishers, 1986.

    Terry, Ann and Henry Maguire. Dynamic Splendor: The Wall Mosaics in the Cathedral of Euphrasius in Porec, University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007. 

    Terry, Ann and Henry Maguire, “The Wall Mosaics of the Cathedral of Eufrasius in Poreč: Third Preliminary Report,” Hortus Artium Medievalium 7 (2001): 131-166.

    Terry, Ann and Henry Maguire, “The Wall Mosaics of the Cathedral of Eufrasius in Poreč: Second Preliminary Report,” Hortus Artium Medievalium 6 (2000): 159-182.

    Terry, Ann and Fiona Gilmore Eaves. A Century of Archaeology at Poreč (1847–1947), Zagreb: University of Zagreb, 2001.


    1. See Carile, The Vision of the Palace.
    2. Matejčić, “The Episcopal Palace at Poreč,” 84-85. 
    3. Terry and Maguire, “The Wall Mosaics of the Cathedral of Eufrasius,” 159-162.
    Go comment!
  • On Teaching, Traveling, and Learning: Brooks Fellowship Summary

    By
    2013 H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellow Amber N. Wiley
     |
    Jul 13, 2015
    When I began my teaching career at the Tulane School of Architecture I had a specific challenge ahead of me: re-fashioning a course entitled “History of Architecture: Ancient to Medieval” that previously centered on the Western tradition to one that had a global focus. This meant including more sites outside Europe: those found in Central and South America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia. Suddenly the textbooks I was most familiar with, from surveys in undergrad and pursuing my masters, would not suffice. My first hurdle was to find the literature that would work for such a major undertaking. I searched for online course syllabi that dealt with the same topics and time span, reviewed their readings, and created my own patchwork of readings from various publications. Even after giving myself the proper framework (in the form of course readings) to begin to talk about a global history of architecture I still had to think about organization—would it regional or thematic? Chronological or based on common climates? In the end I divided the course into two sections: Western and non-Western. I was not satisfied with the decision, but it was useful for practical purposes.

    The course transformed again the second time I taught it, to become “History and Theory of Architecture and Urbanism I: World Architecture to the Enlightenment (Global Settlements).” Yes, I realize the length of the title was unconscionable. I shortened the subtitle the third year I taught the course, dropping “to the Enlightenment,” the only hint at a time frame. Certain aspects of the course were growing clearer, even as the course title became more vague. I adopted three texts that would inform my new way of thinking about the course. These texts would also inform the itinerary I created when submitting an application for the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. The texts were Richard Ingersoll and Spiro Kostof, World Architecture: A Cross-Cultural History, Dora P. Crouch and June G. Johnson, Traditions in Architecture: Africa, America, Asia, and Oceania, and Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. I wanted several themes to come to the fore in my teaching. First, that we (as a class) were examining the built environment on a variety of scales, from individual buildings to patterns of settlement, and then looking at the relationship of the settlements to the surrounding landscape. Central to our architectural analysis was how different cultures and communities made meaning in their everyday lives through design, discussion on what architecture reveals about societal concerns and hierarchies, and the ways in which natural settings are exploited for sustenance and protection.

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    Figure 1. Slide from introduction lecture in “History and Theory of Architecture and Urbanism I.”

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    Figure 2. Another slide from the course introduction lecture.

    These ideas underlined the creation of my itinerary and the various aspects of design that I would investigate over the course of a year with the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. I selected sites that were not a part of the Western canon. The sites I visited are in the Americas, Africa, and Asia, specifically Mexico, Guatemala, Ghana, Ethiopia, India, and Vietnam. I wanted to see not only the ways that communities create, inhabit, and think about space, but what these interactions reveal about the society in which the space is produced. As a result, while I gained a greater understanding of individual structures, cities, and landscapes themselves, I also thought deeply about the intersections of culture, geography, design, preservation, and public history. The places I visited have complicated histories, and are located in countries that face a variety of challenges. Public history and preservation practices have to acknowledge strong indigenous cultural traditions and reconcile a colonial past with a post-colonial present. Additionally, these sites and cities struggle with political corruption and/or instability, and, in some cases, burgeoning populations and a high premium for real estate in historically significant areas.

    These themes came up time and again in my blog entries, as well as many of the readings I chose to highlight in the blog. Every country I visited was considered “Third World” in the traditional sense of the word. The desire to classify these countries persists, and most of them now fall under the banner of the “Global South.”1 The terms Third World and Global South, while both contested and fluid, do evoke very specific negative connotations: those of poverty, heavy industrialization, pollution, public health crises, and overpopulation. The term Global South, however, seems to be a rebranding and repositioning tool that allows for more positive connotations as well. I have found many scholars of the Global South describing urban conglomerations such as Mumbai as cities of the future, with emergent economies. As political alignments have shifted, and as economies have diversified from agricultural and industrial-based, some of these countries no longer fit in that outdated mode of Third World categorization: Mexico and India are prime examples. All of these issues put pressure on the tourism industry. They also inform how historic preservation works and how culture—as a quantifiable and tangible product—is constructed. These are some of the issues that added richness and complexity to my investigation of specific sites throughout the Americas, Africa, and Asia.

    In addition to learning about the world and seeing sites firsthand, my time abroad also forced me to learn new technologies (or at least technologies that were new to me) and think about how I would deliver my thoughts and experiences to a wider audience. The fellowship required that I upload images to SAHARA, so automatically I was adding to the SAH commitment to the digital humanities.2 I also worked with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, Galileo Offline Maps, Google Maps, Instagram, Wordpress, and Prezi. Lightroom allowed me to edit and organize photos en masse, Galileo was great for navigating each city and town, Google Maps for recording the various sites and cities I visited, Instagram for keeping me engaged in daily photographic documentation via my iPhone, and Wordpress for my personal blog.

    Although I had learned about Prezi several years ago while serving as a teaching fellow at the Center for Engaged Learning and Teaching at Tulane, I only began working with the platform after my trip was finished. Prezi offers free account services for educators and students, so I signed up to teach myself how to use the presentation platform. I visited my 11-year-old niece in South Korea at the end of my trip and I wanted her to understand the trajectory and geography of my travels. I thought a regular PowerPoint would not do, and found a World Geography template through Prezi that was perfect for my purposes. The first Prezi I created was entitled “2014–2015: Auntie Amber’s Travels.” While I do not intend to rely solely on this tool for teaching (I do prefer PowerPoint), after my initial experience with it I can easily imagine using both Prezi and PowerPoint throughout the school year, as needed.


     
    Another venture into digital humanities during my travels was my reliance on databases such as the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs online collection, Flickr: The Commons, and the Canadian Centre for Architecture for historical photographs and maps of the sites I visited. This allowed me to acquire digital images in the public domain from a wealth of archives such as the LOC, CCA, the British Library, Internet Archive Book Images, the Cornell University Library, the National Archives UK, the New York Public Library, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Nationaal Archief to supplement my understanding of the history of the sites and cities. Many historical images I used in the blog, from cities as distant as Antigua, Delhi, and Hanoi, were from these online sources.

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    Figure 3. Screen capture of Flickr: The Commons and a few of the archives included in the online image collection.

    Moving forward, my immediate plans after the fellowship include readjustment back to the States, taking care of various writing projects and deadlines, board duties for two organizations, as well as seeing friends and family after a year absence. I will begin a new position as assistant professor of American studies at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. I teach two courses in the fall, “Introduction to American Studies: The American City,” and “Themes in American Culture: African-American Experience.” While my early background is strictly architecture—undergraduate degree in architecture, master’s in architectural history—my doctorate is in American studies. My specializations within the field are architectural history, urban history, and African-American cultural studies. My research interests focus on the built environment, but expand beyond that to take into consideration social issues that relate to design. I often joke that I am a “Professor of Place.” The travel that I completed over the course of this year has significantly impacted not only my understanding of architectural sites across the world, but also my understanding of the particularities of place. New understandings of place and ways to talk about our lived experiences within spaces will inform how I teach my fall courses. Teaching is a creative endeavor, and my experiences have sharpened my ability to make cross-disciplinary connections in the examination of place. Therefore my “American City” course provides snapshots of the nation’s history through an investigation of communal and urban sites. Topics include pre-colonial beginnings, European colonies, the new nation, westward expansion, the industrial city, changing technologies, changes in urban social and spatial structure, urban politics, migration and immigration, and suburbanization. Meanwhile, my “African-American Experience” course pays particular attention to migratory patterns of African-Americans within and outside of the United States. This consideration illustrates how industry, war, social segregation, international diplomacy, and family ties helped shape the relationship between the rural and urban African-American experiences.

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    Figure 4. Illustrations on my fall course syllabi. Top illustration is for the “American City” course with Daniel Burnham’s plan for Chicago. Bottom illustration is for the “African-American Experience” course with Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series.

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    Figure 5. Seeing the U.S. with new eyes: exploring the Film Exchange District in downtown Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

    Just recently a friend of mine commented on an Instagram picture I posted while visiting family in Oklahoma City. I was exploring the major changes happening downtown. I walked around the Film Exchange District, a historic section that focuses on art production and celebrates various western architecture and art deco motifs in the area through ongoing preservation efforts. The picture I posted was a reflection of a store window that captured items for sale as well as Devon Tower, a symbol of the emergent skyline that is a result of a booming energy economy in the state. The friend exclaimed, “I love that you're continuing to wander and take pictures and think like your trip hasn't ended. Maybe that's the key!” I am seeing everything with fresh eyes—including places I know well, like my hometown of Oklahoma City. These fresh eyes will help me be a better researcher, writer, and a professor. In fact, that is the key.

    1. See Martin W. Lewis, “There Is No Third World; There Is No Global South,” GeoCurrents November 15, 2010 Dayo Olopade, “The End of the ‘Developing World,’” New York Times February 28, 2014; Marc Silver, “If You Shouldn't Call It The Third World, What Should You Call It?NPR January 4, 2015
    2. See Dianne Harris, “Learned Society 2.0,” SAH Blog September 1, 2011
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  • Hanoi: An Evolving Capital

    By
    2013 H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellow Amber N. Wiley
     |
    Jun 19, 2015
    Saigon is to New York City as Hanoi is to Washington, D.C. Or at least that was what I was told. Yes, Hanoi and Washington, D.C., are both capital cities. Ho Chi Minh City (commonly referred to as Saigon in Vietnam) and New York City are booming financial centers for their respective countries. This analogy, while seemingly straightforward, implies heavy cultural criticism and assumptions that were later elucidated in conversation. The main assumption was that the capital cities were stagnant and dragging behind socio-cultural and financial development because of their heavy bureaucratic functions as seats of national government. What was often articulated to me was that, in addition to its lack of sophistication due to government hegemony, Hanoi was especially dry because it was closer to China than its southern counterpart Saigon, and that it has been long shaped by communist ideals that drained the vitality of the city’s cultural heritage.

    These types of comparisons do not truly capture the life in any of the aforementioned cities. First, Washington and Hanoi are not cities where culture goes to die. As historian William S. Logan notes:

    One of the key additional roles a capital city plays is as the symbolic head (though perhaps not always sentimental heart) of the political territory and nation. The government and the people expect the capital to represent them—that is, to reflect their achievements, not just for themselves but, on the international stage, to the governments and peoples of other countries.1

    It is true that the projection of a united front, in the form of national culture, often overshadows the idiosyncrasies of local traditions. It is equally true that local traditions exist in spite of this. Many of the cities I have visited throughout my journey were capital cities. Some of them had only a short history in the modern era, such as Addis Ababa. Others, their status as the primary city of a particular region, city-state, and later nation had roots back to antiquity, such as Mexico City. All were laboratories where culture was produced, contested, recycled, and reinterpreted to the whims of various political administrations. This is the reality of a city like Hanoi, which was the capital of North Vietnam during the most tumultuous period of the country’s history, and which became the capital of a united Vietnam after the war.

    Cultural Practice and the Challenge of Heritage Planning

    The Old Quarter of Hanoi is touted as one of the city's top tourist and heritage attractions. Cultural heritage specialist Alexandra Sauvegrain proclaims the government is promoting the city’s Old Quarter, as “an untainted representation of true Vietnamese identity.”2 I stayed in the Hoan Kiem Lake area, on the western edge of the Old Quarter proper. I was initially disappointed while walking through the heart of the Old Quarter. I had hoped to explore remnants of the historic fabric of Hanoi. Instead I experienced a twentieth-century agglomeration of modern facades and tight thoroughfares riddled with traffic. I imagined something more quaint, perhaps along the lines of historic Hoi An. The reality is that what is old about the Old Quarter is less the buildings themselves, and more the place names, street patterns, and cultural practices. This makes for a very complicated heritage preservation issue in the heart of Hanoi. Several scholars have researched the built environment of the Old Quarter in efforts to document the structures and, perhaps sometime in the next decade, inform the development of a cohesive heritage preservation program for the neighborhood.3

    Figure-1

    Figure 1. Map of Hanoi, 1873, Pham Dinh Bach. This section of the map shows the Thang Long, the imperial citadel to the left, and the Old Quarter to the right. Source: Flickr.

    The Old Quarter formed as a commercial and market counterpart to Thang Long, the imperial citadel. Thang Long was constructed in 1010, and the city served as an important political center for most of its thousand-year history.4

    Craftsmen from various villages migrated to the capital, and settled near the citadel. Members of the villages were skilled in numerous trades. Those of the same village and trade settled in close proximity to each other and soon developed craft guilds. The Old Quarter comprised of 36 streets, each of which was named after a particular trade guild—Hang Bac (silver), Hang Gai (silk), Hang Bo (baskets), and so on. The built environment of the Old Quarter morphed over time, changing most drastically in the twentieth century. What is particularly meaningful in the space is not necessarily the construction—it would be difficult to craft a statement of authenticity (along Western standards, that is) for these properties. Instead, it is the fact that commercial and craft trades are still practiced in the quarter today, though not to the same magnitude as in the past. Scholars Hoang Huu Phe and Yukio Nishimura note in their 1991 study of housing in central Hanoi “handicrafts still survive, but are in decline.” They continue by observing, “services, including restaurants, cafes and hairdressers are on the rise.5 The service industry now includes a proliferation of hotels, hostels, and tour agencies, which cater to the increasing tourist population in Vietnam.

    Figure-2

    Figure 2. Tan My Design, a designer store that sells high-end artwork, clothes, and furnishings. This business is located on Hang Gai, the silk guild street, and grew from crafting silk works to its current expanded offerings.

    As preservationists take on the task of planning and creating policy for the Old Quarter, several issues weigh heavily in the planning process. The first challenge for preservation planning is that individual property ownership is low. The state owns most of the residences in the Old Quarter, and in the country for that matter. Property ownership was brought to the fore of urban planning concerns as Vietnam pushed forward economic reform in the Doi Moi policies. Moving individual properties from state to privately owned status is, and will continue to be, exceedingly difficult given the current economy of Vietnam.6 The second challenge is the fact that the history in the Old Quarter lies primarily in the cultural practices and the street pattern. Sauvegrain notes, “although its shop houses mostly date to the late nineteenth century the quarter is the only area of Hanoi that resembles in plan the older, precolonial city.”7 International development and design specialist Danielle Labbé recently studied the changes in preservation policy in the Old Quarter, observing how preservation projects have widened from a focusing on architecture to broader topics of tradition, including “the preservation of immaterial heritages such as traditional economic activities and lifestyles.8

    Art, Culture, Everywhere!

    The state has repurposed many of Hanoi’s French colonial public buildings for its own needs. Logan has observed these buildings “were given new capital-city but socialist and/ or nationalist functions, such as the old customs house, which became the Revolutionary Museum, the colonial army barracks, now the Army Museum, or the Lycee Albert Sarraut, now the Communist Party of Vietnam's Central Committee headquarters.9” Numerous grand French colonial villas, smaller in scale (though still quite large) were adapted for use as international cultural institutions. Casa Italia, for instance, an “Italian Country Promotion Center,” is situated on Le Phung Hieu Street, around the corner from the Hotel Metropole, the Hanoi Opera House, and the museums of Vietnamese History and Revolution. Several embassies occupy French colonial villas on the same street as Casa Italia. L’Espace, a French cultural center in Hanoi, offers a range of programming—exhibits, performance, education. This institution is housed in a former printing house that was constructed in 1907.

    Figure-3Figure 3. Casa Italia, housed in a French colonial villa.

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    Figure 4. L’Espace is located in a former printing house.

    Hanoi is connecting to other countries and growing its international prominence through cultural exchange. It has teamed up with Cambodia and Laos in a “Common Heritage” initiative promoted through UNESCO. The city has formed numerous educational, cultural, and architectural partnerships with French cities and organizations. By expanding its sociopolitical dealings in Southeast Asia and in Europe, the city hopes to benefit from mutual support and promotion leading to increased tourism, research, and status.

    Additionally, Hanoi has a vibrant art scene, one that captures the imagination, all the while reflecting on the past. I discovered this after a long day full of cultural and historical exploration. I wound my way west through the French Quarter, heading north to the Old Quarter on Nha Chung Street. I stopped to do photo documentation of St. Joseph’s Cathedral, then continued toward my hotel. A few blocks up, on my left, I saw a sign that read “Ly Quoc Su Art Cafe Area.” I was exhausted from my wanderings, however my curiosity got the best of me. I walked into an alley where I came across another sign for the Art Vietnam Gallery.

    I walked up the stairs and went into the gallery. It was one of many magical moments of serendipity during my fellowship travels. The gallery was hosting a photography exhibit entitled “Vietnam – 25 Years Documenting a Changing Country.” Catherine Karnow was the featured artist—I had only discovered her work a month before, when my mom’s college friend Rosetta sent me a link to the Brown Alumni Monthly magazine cover story, “Vietnam Through a Lens.”

    Figure-5
    Figure 5. Screen capture from Hanoi Grapevine for Nguyen The Son exhibition “Hanoi - A Living Museum.”

    While at the Art Vietnam Gallery I met Suzanne Lecht, art director for the space. Lecht has lived in Hanoi for more than two decades, and has tirelessly promoted the contemporary art scene with purpose and pizazz. It was Lecht who introduced me to the work of Nguyen The Son, a resident artist of Art Vietnam Gallery. Son’s most recent work, displayed at the gallery as well as the recently opened Hanoi Old Quarter Cultural Exchange Center investigates Hanoi as a “living museum.” As Son explains:

    As if a debtor to the city, I tirelessly seek out and decipher the tenuous linkages between the remaining visual signs of the past etched upon the facades of the structures and thing that arrive all at once, then all of disappear in the relentless spiraling circle of today’s consumption society.”10

    Son’s work is important in that it critically investigates changes over time in this capital city. It is honest, dynamic, and necessary. Son’s work completely destroys the false assumptions of the “stagnant culture” I was warned about when I planned my visit to Hanoi. Viewing the work I was introduced to the complexities that face the city in the twenty-first century—those of crumbling architectural stock, heavy motor traffic, and a vitality of fast-paces everyday life that shapes the spaces of the city.

    H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship Google Map

    Recommended Readings

    Mike Ives, “Folk History of Vietnam in Buildings; A Local Artist Assembles a Tourist Attraction to Protect Country's Heritage,” International Herald Tribune

    June 20, 2012: 202

    William S. Logan, “Russians on the Red River: The Soviet Impact on Hanoi's Townscape, 1955-90,” Europe-Asia Studies 47 no. 3 (May 1995): 443-468

    Le To Luong and Wilhelm Steingrube, “Hanoi’s Population Claims for More Public Parks!” Journal of Settlements and Spatial Planning 2 no. 2 (2011): 95-99

    René Parenteau, François Charbonneau, Pham Khanh Toan,

    Nguyen Ba Dang, Tran Hung, Hoang Manh Nguyen and Vu Thuy

    Hang with the assistance of Hoang Ngoc Hung, Qui An Thanh Binh and Nghiem Hong Hanh, “Impact of Restoration in Hanoi's French Colonial Quarter,” Cities 12 no. 3 (1995): 163-173

    Dinh Quoc Phuong and Derham Groves, “Sense of Place in Hanoi’s Shop-House: The Influences of Local Belief on Interior Architecture,” Journal of Interior Design 36 no. 1 (2010): 1-20

    Nguyen Quang and Hans Detlef Kammeier, “Changes in the Political Economy of Vietnam and Their Impacts on the Built Environment of Hanoi,” Cities19 no. 6 (2002): 373-388

    Sarah Turner and Laura Schoenberger, “Street Vendor Livelihoods and Everyday Politics in Hanoi, Vietnam: The Seeds of a Diverse Economy?” Urban Studies 49 no. 5 (April 2012): 1027–1044




    1. William S. Logan, “The Cultural Role of Capital Cities: Hanoi and Hue, Vietnam,” Pacific Affairs 78 no. 4 (Winter 2005/2006), 560.
    2. Alexandra Sauvegrain, “Dialogues of Architectural Preservation in Modern Vietnam: The 36 Streets Commercial Quarter of Hanoi,” Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review 13 no. 1 (FALL 2001): 23.
    3. See Danielle Labbé, “Facing the Urban Transition in Hanoi: Recent Urban Planning Issues and Initiatives,” Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique Centre – Urbanisation Culture Société (January 2010), Hoang Huu Phe and Yukio Nishimura, “Housing in Central Hanoi,” Habitat International 15 no. 1/2 (1991): 101-126, and Sauvegrain.
    4. See Ho Dinh Duan and Shibayama Mamoru, “Studies on Hanoi Urban Transition in the Late 20th Century Based on GIS/RS,” Southeast Asian Studies 46 no. 4 (March 2009): 532.
    5. Hoang Huu Phe and Yukio Nishimura, “Housing in Central Hanoi,” Habitat International 15 no. 1/2 (1991): 103.
    6. Basil Van Horen, “Hanoi,” Cities 22 no. 2 (2005): 165
    7. Sauvegrain, 26.
    8. Danielle Labbé, “Facing the Urban Transition in Hanoi: Recent Urban Planning Issues and Initiatives,” Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique Centre – Urbanisation Culture Société (January 2010), 15.
    9. Logan, 563.
    10. Exhibition “Hanoi – a Living Museum” of Nguyen The Son,” Hanoi Grapevine. April 24, 2015. 

     

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