Mỹ Sơn Sanctuary - UNESCO World Heritage Site in Vietnam

Mỹ Sơn Sanctuary (Vietnam)

It's been a summer full of surprises! For my birthday I was asked by my better half to pack my bags as we were going to explore Da Nang and Hoi An in Central Vietnam. Little did I know it was just the first part of the surprise with many gifts and commitments (which are too personal to share)  ...

Mỹ Sơn Sanctuary in Vietnam

Either way, the trip included a history "lesson" about Vietnam's past and a visit to the Mỹ Sơn Sanctuary (or whatever is left of it). An UNESCO world heritage site since 1999, the widely spread temple grounds in the mountains are approx. 30 miles (48 km) from Hoi An and best visited as half-day tour with a guide (if you budget allows it). Every morning around 9 am, you can catch a performance of traditional Champa music and dances before venturing out to see the ruins. The complex is divided into multiple sections with some more intact than others. You can certainly see the influence of Hinduism in the architecture and its ornamentation. Sadly, many parts of the complex have been destroyed during the Vietnam War, but constant efforts, with international support, to restore and maintain the ancient temples are visible which allows us to travel back in time to experience what life was like in the Kingdom of the Champa many centuries ago.


Mỹ Sơn Sanctuary (Vietnam)
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Lastly, in case you want to know little of the history about Mỹ Sơn Temples in Vietnam:
Mỹ Sơn is a cluster of abandoned and partially ruined Hindu temples constructed between the 4th and the 14th century AD by the kings of Champa. The temples are dedicated to the worship of the god Shiva, known under various local names, the most important of which is Bhadreshvara. Mỹ Sơn is located near the village of Duy Phú, in the administrative district of Duy Xuyên in Quảng Nam Province in Central Vietnam, 69 km southwest of Da Nang, and approximately 10 km from the historic town of Trà Kiệu. The temples are in a valley roughly two kilometres wide that is surrounded by two mountain ranges. From the 4th to the 14th century AD, the valley at Mỹ Sơn was a site of religious ceremony for kings of the ruling dynasties of Champa, as well as a burial place for Cham royalty and national heroes. It was closely associated with the nearby Cham cities of Indrapura (Đồng Dương) and Simhapura (Trà Kiệu). At one time, the site encompassed over 70 temples as well as numerous stele bearing historically important inscriptions in Sanskrit and Cham. Mỹ Sơn is perhaps the longest inhabited archaeological site in Indochina, but a large majority of its architecture was destroyed by US carpet bombing during a single week of the Vietnam War. The Mỹ Sơn temple complex is regarded one of the foremost Hindu temple complexes in Southeast Asia and is the foremost heritage site of this nature in Vietnam. It is often compared with other historical temple complexes in Southeast Asia, such as Borobudur of Java in Indonesia, Angkor Wat of Cambodia, Bagan of Myanmar and Ayutthaya of Thailand. As of 1999, Mỹ Sơn has been recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site. At its 23rd meeting, UNESCO accorded Mỹ Sơn this recognition pursuant to its criterion C (II), as an example of evolution and change in culture, and pursuant to its criterion C (III), as evidence of an Asian civilization which is now extinct. (Source: Wikipedia)

Mỹ Sơn Sanctuary in Vietnam

And because there was so much more to see  from my trip to Hoi An/Da Nang in Vietnam, including the traditional Champa performances,than I could possibly include in one post, feel free to visit my Flickr stream and/or follow me on Instagram.

Photography from the 19th century Iran

Before getting into the history of photography of the 19th century Persia (now Iran), it is important to briefly outline the overall history of medium and its development to better understand the topic at hand. While some may say the history of photography has its roots even as far as into ancient times where the principles of the camera obscura have been first discovered, it was not until mid-1820 that Nicephore Niepce was able to permanently record an image after several days of exposure. Shortly after, Niepce’s associate Louis Daguerre developed the daguerreotype process that would revolutionize the photography throughout the United States of American and Europe alike.

Of course, over the years, many others scientists and researchers have contributed to the development of the photographic process as we know it today, but it is important to note that photography was first introduced to Persia (now Iran) between 1839 and 1842 which actually happened not long after the official introduction of the medium to the Western world. As part of the European colonial involvement in the Middle East, the two colonial powers in Iran, Russia and England, have gifted the Qajar Monarch, Muhammad Shah (r. 1834-1848), with the first photographic apparatus. And despite the availability of written instructions on how to use the camera, in 1844, the French educator Jules Richard, also possibly the very first person to actually photograph the country, was invited to Iran to teach the Qajar princes the art of photography. 

After the death of Muhammad Shan in 1848, the young crown prince Nasir al-Din Shah ascended to the throne and became the new Persian emperor. And as previously mentioned, Nasir al-Din Shah already received an introduced to photography at the age of thirteen from Jules Richards. And by constantly engaging with the medium of photography, he discovered his passion for the medium, and continued its study even after becoming the Shah of Persia. In addition, Nasir al-Din Shah learned advanced photographic techniques from the then little-known professional French photographer Carlliane, which allowed Nasir al-Din Shah to call himself the first major Qajar photographer. 

Behdad also states that Nasir al-Din Shah has established “a photographic institute Akkas-khanah-I Mubarak-I Humayuni” in one of the buildings of the Gulistan Palace in the 1860’s, where it was Carlliane’s responsibility to train two palace attendants which were appointed to run the it. Furthermore, Behdad explains that from that point on court’s photographers documented every official event, royal trip, military campaign, significant figure (rajul), and historical monuments of the Qajar court. And because of the Shah’s enthusiasm for the medium, after 1860 the subject of photography was introduced to the Dar al-Funun College. 

By establishing the main events that occurred in context to photography, that lead to the popularity of the medium, we can now look further into the key contributors to Persian photography. In the article about photographic traditions in 19th century Iran, the author Donna Stein has divided photography and its participants into three broad categories: those belonging to the European documentary and geographic tradition and recorded cultural and physical phenomena throughout the world like Neapolitan Colonel Luigi Pesce; those who experimented with the new technical discoveries without any particular mission like Nasir al-Din Shah; and those who discovered that they could earn their livelihood from images like Antoin Sevruguin. 

While there may be a handful of photographers worth talking about that were active during the Qajar period (1785–1925), I would like to focus mainly on the life and work of Antoin Sevruguin. Despite the little information available in literature of the world history of photography about him, he has been known as the most prominent and prolific commercial photographer in Iran at the end of the 19th century. Antoin Sevruguin was an Armenian-Iranian photographer, also known by the name Serunian, Sergruvian, Sevriogin, Sevrugin, and Sevraguine, that spent almost all his life in Iran. Born in the 1830’s, he was the son of Vassil de Sevruguin, and orientalist scholar serving as a Russian diplomat to Tehran of Armenian origin, and Achin Khanoum of Georgian background. Antoin was one of their seven children all born in Tehran. Because of Sevruguin’s father’s early death, caused by a riding accident, the family was forced to return first to Tbilisi, and later to Akoulis where life was more affordable. There, the brothers attended school while helping to provide for the family. Later, Sevruguin decided to return to Tbilisi to continue his studies in painting and photography where he met the Russian photographer Dmitri Ivanovich Jermakov (1845-1916) that inspired him to conduct a photographic survey of the people, landscapes, and the architecture of his native country. Around 1870, as mentioned by Navab, together with his brother Emanuel and Kolia, they traveled through Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, and Luristan, photographing whatever appeared to be of interest on their way to Iran. Stein mentions that “Sevruguin recorded his surroundings with an encyclopedic eye”, and while many of his photographs from his journey were reproduced in travel books and narratives, they were not credited with his name which could be the reason why over the years his work has received limited recognition. 







In Focus: Antoin Sevruguin


Antoin Sevruguin (Persian 1830-1933 :آنتوان سورگین: ) was an Armenian-Iranian photographer in Iran, also known by the name Serunian, Sergruvian, Sevriogin, Sevrugin, and Sevraguine, during the reign of the Qajar dynasty (1785–1925).

See more of Antoin Sevruguin's photographs and glass plates in the collection at the Freer & Sackler Galleries - Smithsonian and click here to read more about the history of photography in 19th century Iran.




Japanese Garden in Bonn, Germany



Last year in the summer during my visit to Bonn in Germany, I have decided to venture out to the Japanese Garden before my visit to the Kunst Museum Bonn. It was rather by accident that I have walked into a beautiful garden after taking a wrong turn which proven to introduce me to a calming scenery and a welcome escape from the noise of the city. I stayed for a while, snapped few pictures and thought about life before returning to reality of the world of art. So if you are ever in Bonn, Germany, I would highly recommend an escape into the Japanese Garden near the Museum Mile.

Japanese Garden in Bonn, Germany  Japanese Garden in Bonn, Germany
Japanese Garden in Bonn, Germany  Japanese Garden in Bonn, Germany
Japanese Garden in Bonn, Germany