Tu Phuong Vo Su Pavilion, an important site in the ancient citadel in the central city of Hue, has been turned into a coffee shop, stirring strong public criticism.

The pavilion, the name of which means "house of peace for all", was built in 1923 under the reign of King Khai Dinh. It was used as a place for members of the Nguyen Dynasty to study and enjoy the air. The valuable architectural work has degraded due to the impacts of war and weather.

The Centre for Preservation of Hue Ancient Relics spent 9.3 billion VND (454,000 USD) to restore the site, but it was then leased for use as a coffee shop for 200 million VND (9,760 USD) per year for a three-year period.

The peaceful and ancient atmosphere of the site was disturbed with the noises of people chatting in the coffee shop between 6am and 10pm. The first and second floors of the pavilion were filled with chairs and tables, with no suggestion of the cultural heritage of the site.

"I have been to tourist sites like the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal and the Cham Tower in Ninh Thuan Province ," said tourist Nguyen Van Thang from Hanoi . "They sold souvenirs and drinks but only outside the sites."

He said that the shop had destroyed the site's cultural values.

"This was place where princes and princesses studied," said tourist Dao Thu Hang who urged that the site's original design be preserved as a cultural destination for younger generations.

"I was ashamed coming out of the pavilion as I thought that this was a sight-seeing destination," Hang said. "I will not visit it again."

Researcher Phan Thuan An said Tu Phuong Vo Su Pavilion was part of the ancient citadel, a world cultural heritage site recognised by UNESCO.

"We should arrange the pavilion as a solemn museum which provides visitors with cultural knowledge," An said. "The use of the site as a coffee shop doesn't enhance its historic value."

It wouldn't be necessary to prohibit selling drinks to tourists, but it shouldn't be entirely taken over by a coffee shop, he said.

The meaning of restoration was to promote historic value not to rent it out, he added, noting that a similar issue arose 20 years ago when the Citadel Management Board allowed a restaurant to open inside the palace. The restaurant drew a lot of loud and even drunk tourists, leading the board to close it.

"Why did they let the same problem happen again when they had had the experience of the restaurant," he wondered.

Phung Phu, director of the centre, said the coffee shop was intended to meet tourist demand for a place to rest and have some refreshments at the citadel. However, he said the centre would review the future of the shop. According to provincial People's Committee permanent vice chairman Ngo Hoa, the province approved the plan to convert the site into a coffee shop, believing that higher quality tourist amenities could help preserve the complex.

To Van Dong, head of the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism's administrative office, said the ministry has asked the National Cultural Heritage Department to inspect the shop.

However, he said, the business was not currently in violation of the law, as management boards of historic sites could authorise businesses to operate on the premises.

"I think we should not ban the shop but strictly manage it," he said.

The ministry has also assigned the department to study suitable models for businesses at museums and historic sites./.