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Town of Luang Prabang

Town of Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is an outstanding example of the fusion of traditional architecture and Lao urban structures with those built by the European colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries. Its unique, remarkably well-preserved townscape illustrates a key stage in the blending of these two distinct cultural traditions.

Ville de Luang Prabang

Cette ville reflète la fusion exceptionnelle de l'architecture traditionnelle et des structures urbaines conçues par les autorités coloniales européennes aux XIXe et XXe siècles. Son paysage urbain unique, remarquablement bien conservé, illustre une étape majeure du mélange de ces deux traditions culturelles différentes.

مدينة لوانغ برابانغ

تعكس هذه المدينة اندماجاً متميزاً بين الهندسة التقليدية والتركيبات المدنية التي وضعتها السلطات الاستعمارية الأوروبية في القرنين التاسع عشر والعشرين. ويجسد هذا المنظر المدني الفريد الذي تم حفظه بصورة ممتازة مرحلة اساسية من المزج بين هذين التقليدين الثقافيين المختلفين.

source: UNESCO/ERI

琅勃拉邦的古城

琅勃拉邦的古城是19世纪至20世纪欧洲殖民者建造的传统建筑与老挝城市结构相融合的突出典范。它独特的镇区保存十分完美,表现了两种截然不同的文化传统相互融合的关键阶段。

source: UNESCO/ERI

Город Луанг-Прабанг

Луанг-Прабанг – это выдающийся пример синтеза в архитектуре и городской планировке народных лаосских традиций с принципами, привнесенными колониальными европейскими властями в XIX-XX вв. Уникальный, исключительно хорошо сохранившийся облик города иллюстрирует ключевой этап в соединении этих двух различающихся культурных традиций.

source: UNESCO/ERI

Ciudad de Luang Prabang

Esta ciudad es un ejemplo excepcional de la fusión de la arquitectura tradicional con las estructuras urbanas creadas por las autoridades coloniales europeas en los siglos XIX y XX. Su extraordinario paisaje urbano, muy bien conservado, ilustra una etapa clave de la mezcla de dos tradiciones culturales diferentes.

source: UNESCO/ERI

ルアン・パバンの町

source: NFUAJ

Luang Prabang (stad)

Luang Prabang is een mooi voorbeeld van de vermenging van de traditionele architectuur en stedelijke structuren van Laos, met de structuren gebouwd door de Europese koloniale autoriteiten in de 19e en 20e eeuw. Het unieke, opmerkelijk goed bewaard gebleven stadsbeeld illustreert een belangrijke fase in het mengen van deze twee verschillende culturele tradities. De stad ligt op een schiereiland – gevormd door de Mekong rivier en haar zijrivieren – in een kleibassin omringd door kalkstenen heuvels die het landschap domineren. Volgens de legende glimlachte de Boeddha toen hij hier was en voorspelde hij dat dit een rijke en machtige hoofdstad zou worden.

Source: unesco.nl

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Luang Prabang © UNESCO
Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

Luang Prabang is located in northern Laos at the heart of a mountainous region. The town is built on a peninsula formed by the Mekong and the Nam Khan River. Mountain ranges (in particular the PhouThao and PhouNang mountains) encircle the city in lush greenery.

Many legends are associated with the creation of the city, including one that recounts that Buddha would have smiled when he rested there during his travels, prophesying that it would one day be the site of a rich and powerful city. Known as Muang Sua, then Xieng Thong, from the 14th to the 16th century the town became the capital of the powerful kingdom of Lane Xang (Kingdom of a Million Elephants), whose wealth and influence were related to its strategic location on the Silk Route. The city was also the centre of Buddhism in the region. Luang Prabang takes its name from a statue of Buddha, the Prabang, offered by Cambodia.

After the establishment of the French Protectorate in 1893, following a period of turmoil during which the country was divided into three independent kingdoms, Luang Prabang once again became the royal and religious capital during the reign of King Sisavang Vong. It played this role until Vientiane became the administrative capital in 1946.

Luang Prabang is exceptional for both its rich architectural and artistic heritage that reflects the fusion of Lao traditional urban architecture with that of the colonial era. Its remarkably well-preserved townscape reflects the alliance of these two distinct cultural traditions.

The political and religious centre of Luang Prabang is the peninsula, with its royal and noble residences and religious foundations.  The traditional urban fabric of the old villages, each with its temple, was preserved by later constructions. The colonial urban morphology, including the network of streets, overlapped harmoniously with the previous model. Formerly the town limits were defined by defensive walls.

The richness of Luang Prabang architecture reflects the mix of styles and materials. The majority of the buildings are, following tradition, wooden structures.  Only the temples are in stone, whereas one- or two-storey brick houses characterize the colonial element of the town.  The many pagodas or "Vat" in Luang Prabang, which are among the most sophisticated Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia, are richly decorated (sculptures, engravings, paintings, gilding and furniture pieces).  Wat Xieng Thong, which dates from the 16th century, comprises an ensemble of the most complex structures of all the pagodas of the town. It is remarkable both from the archaeological point of view, and from the Lao iconographic and aesthetic viewpoint.
Many traditional Lao houses remain; they are built of wood using traditional techniques and materials introduced in the colonial period, such as plaited bamboo panels coated with wattle and daub.  Brick colonial buildings, often with balconies and other decorative features in wood, line the main street and the Mekong.
The built heritage of Luang Prabang is in perfect harmony in the natural environment. The sacred Mount Phousi stands at the heart of the historic town built on a peninsula delimited by the Mekong and the Nam Khan, domain of the mythical naga. Ceremonies to appease the nagas and other evil spirits, and Buddhist religious practices (Prabang procession, the monks’ morning quest) perpetuate the sanctity of the place. Natural spaces located in the heart of the city and along the riverbanks, and wetlands (a complex network of ponds used for fish farming and vegetable growing) complement this preserved natural environment.

Criterion (ii):  Luang Prabang reflects the exceptional fusion of Lao traditional architecture and 19th and 20th century European colonial style buildings.

Criterion (iv): Luang Prabang is an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble built over the centuries combining sophisticated architecture of religious buildings, vernacular constructions and colonial buildings.

Criterion (v): The unique townscape of Luang Prabang is remarkably well preserved, illustrating a key stage in the blending of two distinct cultural traditions.

Integrity

The integrity of the inscribed site is linked to an architectural and cultural heritage set in a natural landscape that reflects its Outstanding Universal Value.  All of the significant elements, especially the urban fabric and major monuments (temples, public buildings, traditional houses), have been preserved.
However, there are some threats to the site due to the rapid development of the town and strong economic pressures, many of which are related to tourism (transformation of use of buildings, departure of residents, illegal construction).

Authenticity

The landscapes and urban fabric retain a high degree of authenticity, and the site is not disturbed by any major construction.
The religious buildings are regularly maintained; monks teach young monks restoration techniques for their heritage. Moreover, the Buddhist cult and the cultural traditions related to it (rites and ceremonies) are still alive and practiced diligently.
However, the degree of the authenticity of materials and construction techniques of many houses is low, since, for a long period, unsuitable modern techniques and materials (concrete, in particular) have often been used to replace traditional materials.

Protection and management requirements

The protection of the monuments and religious buildings of Luang Prabang is ensured by Decree No. 1375: 1978 of the Ministry of National Education and Sports, under the responsibility of the national and provincial administrations of the Lao Buddhist Federation.  Decree No. 139, 1990, of the Ministry of Information and Culture assigns responsibility for heritage protection to this Ministry (at national level), to the Information and Culture Service (regional level) and to the district (local level). Article 16 of the Law on Environmental Protection No 09/NA, 1999, focuses on the historical, cultural and natural heritage; Article 7 deals with the obligation to conduct a socio-environmental impact analysis before undertaking any development and infrastructure project.  Law No. 08 / NA on the national heritage, enacted in 2005, reinforces this legal arsenal.
The authorities have developed the tools necessary to manage the property:  Law on urban heritage protection, establishment of decentralized cooperation with the French town of Chinon, creation of a Luang Prabang World Heritage Department and establishment of National and Local Heritage Committees.
The Safeguarding and Enhancement Plan (SEP) of the city consists both of a regulatory component having the force of law and a more adaptable component  regarding recommendations to support projects while leaving some flexibility   The religious authorities are particularly sensitive to the value of their heritage, with the support of the population. To counter the negative effects of rapid urban development, the regulations of the SEP include measures that the Department of Heritage must apply under the responsibility of the Local Heritage Committee and the National Committee.
To respond to the new challenges (sustainable tourism, preservation of landscapes and surrounding agricultural areas), a wide buffer zone of 12,500 ha has been defined in the context of the revision of the Urban Plan that was approved by decree of the Prime Minister in February 2012. Large projects (new town, big hotels) are deferred until their impact can be assessed in regard to the Plan. In addition, public buildings (primary school, Fine Arts School) will not be conceded to the private sector, but they will be restored and will retain their cultural vocation.  The Heritage House was restructured to become the Heritage Department in 2009. The new Heritage Department ensures strict application of the SEP and Urban Plan.  Its mission is also to coordinate the actions of the Local Committee, raise awareness of the universal values of the heritage of Luang Prabang and advise those involved in development and infrastructure projects. Measures related to the use of traditional materials and techniques (wood, brick, tile and local ceramic) will be strengthened in order to preserve the integrity of the built heritage and local building traditions.

Long Description

Luang Prabang is an outstanding example of the fusion of traditional architecture and Lao urban structures with those built by the European colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries. Its unique, remarkably well-preserved townscape illustrates a key stage in the blending of these two distinct cultural traditions.

The town is situated on a peninsula formed by the Mekong River and its tributaries in a clay basin surrounded by limestone hills that dominate the landscape. According to legend, the Buddha smiled when he rested here for a day during his travels, prophesying that it would one day be the site of a rich and powerful capital city. Another legend attributes the choice of the site to two hermits, attracted by its natural beauty, who gave it the name of Xieng Dong (or perhaps Xieng Thong).

It was known under this name at the end of the 13th century AD. A few decades later it became the capital of the powerful kingdom of Lan Xang, whose wealth and influence can be attributed to the location of its capital at a crossroads on the Silk Route, as well as the centre of Buddhism in the region. It remained the capital until 1560, when this title passed to Vientiane. It was at this time that it received a new name, Luang Prabang, the name of the famous Buddha image brought earlier from Cambodia. The towns in Laos conformed with the European urban of defended royal administrative complexes with adjacent temples and monasteries. Around them clustered a number of distinct village communities, supplying their needs but not integrated into a single administrative entity. The villages acted as commercial centres, not the town as such, which did not have the large mercantile communities to be found at the time in Thailand or Cambodia.

On the death of King Sourigna Vongsa at the end of the 17th century a serious political crisis ensued. The Lan Xang kingdom was divided first into two independent realms, those of Vientiane and Luang Prabang, and then into three, with the creation of the kingdom of Champasak. Luang Prabang retained its role as the royal capital until 1946, when Vientiane took over as administrative centre.

The political and religious centre of the town is the peninsula, with its royal and noble residences and religious foundations. This is defined by a defensive wall built from one river bank to the other, sealing off the peninsula at its base. The majority of the buildings are, following traditions, built from wood (part of the temples are in stone). The colonial element of the town is characterized by one- or two-storey terraced houses built from brick: they often have balconies and other decorative features in wood.

The commercial buildings are grouped along the Mekong, interspersed with private houses. The temples and royal residences line one side of Avenue Pavie, which runs the length of the peninsula, the other side being occupied by traditional and colonial houses. The administrative buildings are for the most part at the crossroads with Rue Gernier. The monasteries generally consist of: the cult buildings (shrine, chapel, library, stupa, stone post), ancillary buildings and buildings for inhabitants or visitors (monastic communal buildings, cells, refectory, etc.). Most are simple shrines with three aisles and a single porch. Their interior furnishings comprise a pedestal or throne for the main Buddha image, a pulpit, a terrace and a lamp. Most are elaborately decorated with carved motifs but the wall paintings are relatively simple. The Luang Prabang chapels are simple structures for housing images; they may be open or walled.

The traditional Lao wooden houses are basically divided into spaces: the private rooms and the public terraces. They are usually raised on wooden piles, giving a space beneath for working and for shelter for both men and animals. Walling may be of planks or plaited bamboo on a wooden frame. A developed form of this house makes use of brick, following the French introduction of this material, but conserving the general layout and appearance of the traditional house. Finally there are the administrative buildings, which more or less successfully blend traditional elements with European materials, techniques and uses.

Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
Historical Description

Luang Prabang Province lies in the heart of the mountainous region of northern Laos. The town of Luang Praoang is situated on a peninsula formed by the Mekong River and its tributaries, the Nam Knane and the Kual Hop, in a Clay basin surrounded by the limestone hills that dominate the landscape.
According to legend. the Buddha smiled when he rested here for a day during his travels, prophesying that it would one day be the site of a rich and powerful capital city. Another legend attributes the choice of the site to two hermits, attracted by its natural beauty, who gave it the name of Xieng Dong (or perhaps Xieng Thong, commemorating the name of the flamboyant tree that was the centre of their implantation). It was inhabited first by hybrid beings who became the protectors of the city when they died, and then by human beings, the first of them the Khas, a group coming together from various regions. They were driven out by the Lao, who came down from the north, following their legendary leader Khun Lo, who renamed the city Muang Java, in tribute to the Kha leader whom he had defeated, Khun Java. This legendary account of the city's foundation is borne out by archaeological and toponymic evidence for the settlement of the region.


A stele from Sukhothai attests to its being known under this name at the end of the 13th century AD. A few decades later it became the capital of the powerful kingdom of Lan Xang ("One Million Elephants"), whose wealth and influence can e attributed to the location of its capital at a crossroads on the Silk Route, as well as the centre of Buddhism in the region. It remained the capital of the kingdom until 1560? When this title passed to Vientiane, which was located further from the threatening Burmese armies. It was at this time that it received a new name, Luang Prabang, the name of the famous Buddha image brought earlier from Cambodia. It should be stressed that neither of the "towns" in Laos, Luang Prabang or Vientiane, conformed with the European urban concept: they were essentially defended royal administrative complexes with adjacent temples and monasteries. Around these clustered a number of distinct village communities, supplying their needs but not integrated into a single administrative entity. It was the village that acted as commercial centres, not the town as such, which did not have the large mercantile communities to be found at that time in Thailand or Cambodia.

On the death of King Sourigna Vongsa at the end of the 17th century a serious political crisis ensued. The Lan Xang kingdom was divided first into two independent realms, those of Vientiane and Luang Prabang, and then into three, with the creation of the kingdom of Champassak. The Luang Prabang rulers became puppets of the Thai power, especially after 1828, when the Vientiane kingdom disappeared with the complete destruction of the town by the Thai army and the deportation of its Inhabitants. Luang Prabang itself suffered gravely from the attacks of the famous Pavilions Noirs (Black Flags), who subjected it to sack and pillage from 1887 until the arrival of the French in 1893. Its reconstruction and restoration as a religious and royal capital was the work of King Sisavang Vong, aided in this heavy task by his successive viceroys Chao Mana Oupahat Boun Khong and Prince Pnetsarath. Luang Prabang retained its role as the royal capital until 1946, when Vientiane took over as administrative centre.

During the French protectorate, which was created on 3 October 1893 following the signing of the FrancoSiamese Treaty, Laos was not a homogeneous political entity: the Lan Xang Kingdom was no more than a memory. However, although the country was divided into many small kingdoms and principalities, a nation was forged which transcended the feudal structure that persisted. Towns in the western sense developed, alongside the timeless rural organization of the villages, which was opposed to this Intrusion. Luang Prabang provided the nucleus: round its royal residence were grouped the houses of the nobility and the cult centres (temples and monasteries). It did not attract public buildings like Vientiane, which was chosen by the French for their capital, but on the other hand its commercial potential attracted many French businessmen.

Source: Advisory Body Evaluation