Hallowed ground

Lam Kinh was once the second capital of Dai Viet and home to a rich array of outstanding structures built by the posterior Le Dynasty.

The youngest of three sons, Le Loi hailed from Lam Son in northern-Vietnam (Thanh Hoa province today), which was formerly a frontier of Dai Viet (Vietnam) and far from the royal court’s sphere of influence.

Born in 1385, Le Loi grew up in somewhat troubled times. The Ho Dynasty held sway over Dai Viet but by 1407 Ming Emperor Yongle of China was looking to invade Dai Viet.

The Ho Dynasty quickly capitulated but the Ming would face stiff resistance, especially in the countryside. Le Loi himself said that he chose the path of revolt after witnessing the brutal destruction of a Vietnamese village by Ming forces.

A 10-year long campaign against the Ming began the day after Tet in 1418. Supported by several prominent families from his native Thanh Hoa province, initially Le Loi merely wanted to liberate the land. But over time as the unquestioned leader of the revolt, he became a realistic candidate for the throne.

Unable to muster the military forces required to defeat the Ming army in open battle, he waged a guerilla style war against a large and well organised Chinese army. But by 1427, the revolt had spread throughout the country and the original Ming army of occupation had been ground down. The Ming attempted one last military surge by sending 100,000 more troops south but Le Loi, now leading a sizeable army in the region of 350,000 men, outmanoeuvred and routed the Chinese .

The royal capital

Le Loi took the throne as Le Thai To and quickly set about reorganising his government and securing long-term peace with the Ming. This wise, benevolent and heroic ruler was much revered and so when he died it was decided to construct a secondcapital in his homeland. Lam Kinh was established in Lam Son in 1433, where a series of monuments and a mausoleum were built in tribute to the late King, who had been replaced by the regent Le Thai Tong, as Le Loi’s son was too young to rule.

The “second capital” bordered the Dau Mountain in the north, the Chu River and the Muc Mountain in the south. It was to become a spectacular site replete with resplendent mausoleums, pavilions, temples and a palace.

Le Loi is still considered to be one of the country’s greatest heroes and Lam Kinh remains hallowed ground for patriotic Vietnamese. Time, however, was not so kind to the site. After the Le Dynasty ended, Lam Kinh was abandoned and neglected for hundreds of years thereafter. Vietnam’s struggle for independence through much of the 20th century meant cultural sites and relics – no matter how eminent – were furthered ignored.

In 1962 Lam Kinh became an official “national historical and cultural” site but this did little to restore the site. In 1994, the government approved a project to comprehensively renovate the Lam Kinh site in the hope of transforming it into a tourist site. The project suffered cash shortages and faced difficulties over site clearance all of which slowed down the project.

But now, efforts are underway to accelerate the project though it is already drawing in more tourists than before. “Previously, the site was visited by locals only. But it is now visited by more than 30,000 local and foreign tourists each year,” says Nguyen Manh Hai, a local tour guide.

Most of the site’s magnificent architecture is now destroyed. However, five of the six royal tombs have been uncovered and remain intact. One of the largest tombs belongs to Queen Ngo Thi Ngoc Dao – the mother of Le Thanh Tong. Another significant structure is the Vinh Lang tomb, which commemorates Le Thai To.

It is also home to the stone stele which bears extracts from the Binh Ngo Sach (Book on Defeating the Wu), compiled by Nguyen Trai, who was Le Loi’s closest adviser and primary strategist in the victory over the Ming.

This three-metre high stele is made of precious stone and erected on a big stone tortoise, which represents longevity, happiness and harmony according to the principles of feng shui.

Quiet reflection

Today Lam Kinh is a beautiful place and well worth visiting despite the demise of its grand architecture. This remains hallowed ground for Vietnamese. Religious ceremonies are held here throughout the year. The Lam Kinh festival takes place on the 22nd of the eighth lunar month every year with a reenactment of the Lam Son insurrection and Le Loi’s accession to the throne.

There is also a reenactment of General Le Lai’s selfless sacrifice in 1421. Le Loi’s army was under siege and trapped on a mountaintop, so Le Lai disguised himself as Le Loi and launched what looked like a kamikaze-style cavalry charge down the mountain. This valiant attack diverted the Ming army’s attention for long enough so Le Loi could escape. Le Lai and his soldiers fought bravely to the bitter end and Le Loi would live to fight another day.

After Le Loi’s eventual triumph over the Minh, he ordered that on his death, Le Lai’s death anniversary would be commemorated before his own.



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