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Cát Tiên Sanctuary: Mysterious Relics Of An Ancient Kingdom In Vietnam’s Central Highlands

Cát Tiên Sanctuary – the mysterious site of a past kingdom

Vietnam has a long and complicated history. In fact, in our country, there’re many relic sites of several ancient kingdoms that have ceased to exist, such as those from the Champa or Funan civilizations.

However, Cát Tiên Sanctuary in the Central Highlands is an outstanding one. Here, you can find many artifacts of an Indianized kingdom which still intrigues both many visitors and historical experts today.

It was discovered only about 40 years ago

Cat Tien Sanctuary - Panorama
The aerial view of the Cát Tiên Sanctuary
Image credit: Di tích khảo cổ Cát Tiên

Cát Tiên Sanctuary is a significant relic site which is ideal for history buffs, especially those interested in ancient cultures, to explore an example of Indianized architecture and religions. It is among the latest to be discovered in Vietnam, as a group of ethnologists and census takers accidentally found it in 1985.

Cat Tien Sanctuary - Dong Nai River
The relics of Cát Tiên Sanctuary scatter along Đồng Nai River.
Image credit: Di tích khảo cổ Cát Tiên

Cát Tiên Sanctuary stretches 15 kilometers along the Đồng Nai River and between two sectors of the Cát Tiên National Park, Lâm Đồng District. After several excavations since 1994, the sanctuary is now open to visitors, so you can see sacred artifacts with such as lingam and yoni icons, deity statues, and kendi pots.

In addition, you can also find many tools and weapons such as spears, dishes, lamps, and so on.

A large site with many mysterious relics

Lingam and Yoni - Cat Tien
A group of researchers studying the lingam and yoni at Cát Tiên Sanctuary
Image credit: Di tích khảo cổ Cát Tiên

As this historical site was a surprise discovery, it is still much debate over what culture this sanctuary belonged to. Using a radiometric dating method, researchers claimed that the sanctuary must have been constructed between the 4th and the 8th centuries.

You can also see the platforms and walls of ancient towers with distinctive designs of this period. These remaining buildings also suggest the massive scale of this sanctuary.

Cat Tien Mound
There are still more relics in mounds like this waiting to be excavated
Image credit: Bui Cong Truong

Some of the relics also point out the level of development in handicrafts and commercial activities of their culture. For example, you can find more than 200 pieces of meticulously-made golden reliefs depicting a gods’ labyrinth and a silver pot with a lion figure which might be of the Middle East or South Asia origin.

The origins of this site are unknown

Cat Tien Exhibition Gallery
You can find many relics excavated from the mounds in this exhibition gallery
Image credit: Tuấn Thanh

This sanctuary is a must-see for those who love history and mysteries as it is still unclear what culture this site belonged to. Some researchers have claimed that this was likely to be a religious center of the Funan Kingdom, just like the site in Óc Eo, while  others believe that this might be a site of the Champa Kingdom, similar to the sanctuary in Mỹ Sơn. There are also some hypotheses about a separate kingdom located here.

Cat Tien Camping
Cát Tiên Sanctuary usually offers camping tours for young visitors, especially students.
Image credit: Hiep Maidinh

Despite the debate, the sanctuary has been recognized as a special national relic site since 2014 thanks to its significant historical values.

Cát Tiên Sanctuary

Cát Tiên Sanctuary is still a great place to help you know more about the people of the Central Highlands in the past as well as the connections between ancient kingdoms in the southern half of Vietnam.

With more studies carried out every year about this sanctuary, you may find more interesting information about this place every time you visit it.

Cát Tiên Sanctuary
Address: Hamlet 1, Quảng Ngãi Commune, Cát Tiên District, Lâm Đồng Province
Opening hours: Mon–Fri 7.30AM-11AM, 1.30PM-4PM
For visits on weekends or guided tours, please phone the sanctuary for further instructions.
Telephone: 0931777182
Cát Tiên Sanctuary’s Facebook page

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Cover image adapted from Di tích khảo cổ Cát Tiên, Bui Cong Truong, and Dia Thanh  

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