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The ancient town of Hoi An is located 30 km south of Da Nang on the banks of the Thu Bon River. Occupied by early western traders, Hoi An was one of the major trading centres of Southeast Asia in the 16th century. Hoi An has a distint Chinese atmosphere with low tile-roofed houses and narrow streets; the origional structure of some of these streets still remains the most intact. All the houses are made of rare wood, decorated with lacquered boards and panels engraved with Chinese charactures. Pillars were also carved with omamantal desings. Nowadays, Hoi An is also wel-known for its tailoring shops and exotic cusines.
Archaeologists discovered ceramics dating back 2,200 years ago in and around Hoi An (historically known as Fayfo, Kaifo, Faifoo, Faixfo, Hoai Pho), indicating fishermen and farmers originally dwelt here.
From about the year 200 to the mid-900s, Hoi An was part of the mighty Champa Kingdom located on the central coast of the Indochinese peninsula. The Cham people, an Indianised seafaring people skilled at coastal and river transport, had an "outlook on the sea" that engaged them in international coastal trade.
The estuary of Hoi An has an ancient name, Cua Dai Chiem, which means the "Great Cham Estuary". It is believed that Hoi An was a seaport for the upstream sacred Cham cities of My Son and Tra Kieu. The estuary once consisted of many lakes, rivers, and sandy islands. Hoi An was founded on the largest and driest of these islands.
Ancient Persian and Arab texts praised Hoi An as an excellent place for ships to secure fresh provisions. After Vietnamese military offensives ousted the Champas, Hoi An continued as an important river port.
Hoi An first came to prominence as an international port in the late sixteenth century and reached its apex in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. At that time Hoi An had trade links with China, Japan, Siam, the Malay Peninsula, Luzon, and even European countries such as England, France, Holland, and Portugal.
The town was a crossroad of economic-cultural flows in Vietnam and Southeast Asia from the end of the 16 th century to the early 19th century. It was also the gate through which Buddhism and Christianity were introduced into Vietnam in the 17th century. In the process, Hoi An acquired unique cultural characteristics which are manifested in its customs until today.
In 1560-1638, Japanese traders establish a presence in the town. In 1593, Japanese merchants build a covered bridge to link their settlement with that of the Chinese community. The bridge, rebuilt in 1719, still stands today. The town grew prosperous exporting silk, sugar, gold, cinnamon, sandalwood, pepper, areca nut, ceramics, timber, tortoise shell, rhino horn, and, of all things, sea swallows’ nests. As Hoi An's reputation grew, it became an opulent town.
In 1615, Portuguese Jesuits built the first Christian mission in Vietnam at Hoi An, along with a mission in Danang and Hanoi. One of the most famous visitors to Hoi An during the 17th century was French missionary Alexandre de Rhodes, who created the relatively easy-to-read, Latin-style script which Vietnamese language still uses.
The town’s importance declined in the nineteenth century. Hoi An was soon forgotten by the outside world. Though the town was still charming, it was left to fend for itself as a sleepy backwater. In 1916, when the Danang-Hoi An railway line was wiped out by a storm, it wasn't considered worth the money to reconstruct. Fortunately, the town escaped serious damage during the US-Vietnam War.
When foreign scholars discovered its gorgeous architecture during the 1980s, they convinced UNESCO and the then-communist Polish government to restore Hoi An's ancient sites and monuments. When Vietnam began allowing large scale tourism in the early 1990s, Hoi An emerged as one of the nation's best kept secrets. Many of the town's 60,000 population were delighted by the new attention.
In April 2000, the 18th and 19th merchant quarters of the city were declared a world heritage site by UNESCO, and is the only place in Vietnam to have many of its original streets and building preserved intact, which are typical of an old seaport town in South East Asia. Besides, the river town of Hoi An as well as the nearby Cham Towers of My Son has recently been recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Hoi An boasts 87 pagodas, temples and communal houses, 82 ancient tube-shaped houses, 24 ancient wells and an ancient tile-roofed bridge.