Ngu Han Son – Marble Mountains and Stone Sculpture Village – Part 1
We are in the southern suburbs of the port city of Da Nang in central Vietnam. The place we visit today has very romantic names given to it at the beginning of the 19th century by Emperor Gia Long, the founder of the Nguyen dynasty, who ruled Hue between 1802 and 1820. At that time, the area was further from the city near the sea coast about 10 km south of Da Nang.
Five elements of life = five mountains
Five solitary limestone hills rise from the coastal plain, mostly with almost perpendicular walls with lush vegetation and labyrinths of smaller and larger cave systems. The emperor was so captivated by the natural scenery of the area, and in addition, the number five means according to Eastern philosophy the five elements of life, that is, metal, water, wood, fire and earth (soil), that he gave these five peaks the names Kim Son, Thuy Son, Moc Son, Hoa Son and Tho Son. In Czech it means Metal Mountain, Water Mountain, Wooden Mountain, Fire Mountain and Earth Mountain. It was not until the end of the 19th century that the French, after the establishment of French Indochina, named this area the Marble Mountains. This name has been preserved for tourists to this day, the Marble Mountains. In Vietnamese Ngu Han Son. The Vietnamese use this name for the whole area, the mountains themselves have retained their names.
Geology of mountains
From a geological point of view, tens of thousands of years ago, this area was an island world near the coast, similar to what is now Ha Long (Dragon Bay) in northern Vietnam. The slow upward movement of the Truong Sen Mountains and the consequent increase in the erosion activity of the Thu Bon River in the upper reaches and the subsequent active river sedimentation at the mouth of the river in the Quang Nam lowlands caused the islands lying in the sea to gradually join the mainland. At present, the area is approximately 800 metres from the sea coast. Subsequent natural erosion of the limestone hills, caused mainly by heavy tropical rains and wind, shaped these places into the current form of jagged rocks with numerous cave systems. Each of these hills also has a characteristic rock colour, different from its companions. From white, grey, pink, brown to almost black, typical of bituminous limestone with white veins of calcite.
For a long time, due to its mystery and bizarreness, this area was determined to observe religious ceremonies and to worship deities. Various artifacts and archaeological finds in the interior of the cave shrines testify to this. All the above-mentioned hills are literally dotted with large and small altars and shrines both on the surface and in the mysterious spaces of the cave systems. The original inhabitants of the Cham Pa kingdom, who were Hindus worshipping Shiva and the goddess Ponagar, came there to pray to their deities. Their empire dates back to the first century AD. This empire experienced its greatest prosperity between the 4th and 13th centuries. From then on, the Cham Empire began to decline and finally disappeared in the 17th century, when it became part of Vietnam.
Under Vietnamese influence, Buddhism gradually spread in the area, and in the sacred place of the five hills, without removing the original Cham shrines, gradually emerged Buddhist temples, pagodas, shrines, and small prayer houses. They were formed both on the slopes of the hills and in the labyrinth of underground spaces.