The Champa Museum, located by the Han River in downtown Da Nang, is one of the most popular destinations for foreign tourists to the central city.
Built in 1915 it houses nearly 2,000 sculptures made by the Indian-influenced Cham civilisation that flourished in Viet Nam between the 6th and 18th centuries, with 475 on display inside and in the garden and the rest in its vaults.
There are some terracotta and bronze sculptures but most are made of sandstone and cover a gamut of styles. They mostly date back to the 12th to 15th centuries.
The artefacts were found in the central region between Quang Binh and Binh Thuan provinces. They are displayed in 10 halls named after the localities where they were discovered – like My Son, Tra Kieu, and Dong Duong.
According to its director, Vo Van Thang, the Champa Museum’s first building was opened only in 1919 but many Cham artefacts had been collected and brought to the site over the preceding 20 years.
The collection was begun by French archaeologists and experts from the L’ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient (the Far East Archaeological Research Institute) in Ha Noi.
Thang said the establishment of a Cham sculpture museum in Da Nang was first proposed in 1902 by the EFEO’s Department of Archaeology. Henri Parmentier, a prominent archaeologist in the department, made a great contribution to the campaign for its construction.
The first building was designed by French architects. The museum has been expanded twice since then, but the character of the original architecture has been preserved.
The museum is being managed by the Da Nang Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
Thang said the museum has sent its exhibits to a number of exhibitions abroad. In 2003 it sent two artefacts to an art and history museum in Brussels, Belgium, and the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna, Austria.
In October 2005 it lent 48 objects to an exhibition titled Viet Nam Art Treasure: Champa Sculpture at the Guimet Museum in Paris.
Recently in the US, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and the Asia Society, New York, held an unprecedented exhibition of art from ancient Viet Nam called Ancient Vietnam: From River Plain to Open Sea, introducing new scholarship on the history of Vietnamese art.
The exhibition was held from September 2009 to January 3 this year at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Around 110 objects from the first millennium BC through the 17th century, on loan from leading Vietnamese museums, including the Champa Museum, were on display at this exhibition.
“These exhibitions helped make ancient Viet Nam’s arts better known around the world,” Thang said.
However, the global economic turmoil has resulted in a decrease in the number of visitors to the museum.
Thang said the figure dropped from 190,000 in 2008 to 150,000 last year, with around 110,000 of them being foreigners.
“Very interesting and educational – most instructive,” said Shyllist Roy, a British tourist who came to the museum early last year.
Anggoon Saiboot, a Thai visitor, said: “I’ve come from Thailand to visit the museum. I think I am very lucky and happy.”
After visiting the museum in February 2008, Singapore’s President S. R. Nathan wrote in the visitors’ book: “A rare display of ancient Hindu statues – well displayed for visitors to admire and appreciate a bygone civilisation in Viet Nam.”
The entrance fee to the museum on September 2 Street is VND30,000 for an adult and VND5,000 for a child. High-school students can enter for free. — VNS by Le Hung Vong