Thang Long, a Citadel of
is home of many sacred sites. The West Lake quarter is endowed with
romantic scenery around a body of immense water and ample space, where
many mystic legends originated, since the time it was a branch of the
Cai River, clustered by rural farms and villages. A little bit further
is the green Ho Hoan Kiem (Restored Sword Lake), which tells the story
of the Tortoise Genie rising out of the lake surface to lend Le Loi,
leader of an insurrection, a sacred sword to help him eliminate the
northern invaders. The Dong Da and Ngoc Hoi hills were once
battlefields and burial grounds for the Qing invaders from China. It
was then a symbol of the great effort and determination of a new
administration with the capital located in Thang Long - the Soaring
Dragon region. Then comes the ancient street quarter with small houses
storing an age-old history of the bustling Ke Cho, reserved for petty
long time ago, here lived a national political center of Dai Viet with
a firmly built ring part of the citadel. Cove was the severe,
forbidden area of the King and his royal family. It is now mystic and
little known to most of the people, as it experienced so many battles
through the years of war and oppression. The present offspring of the
old Dai Viet only know about this center through historical books.
As mentioned above, King Ly Thai To established the national political
center, as he moved the Imperial Citadel from Hoa Lu (Thai Binh
Province of present day) to a region that he named Thang Long (Soaring
Dragon). The new capital had such a name, as the King, in a dream, saw
a beautiful sacred dragon taking off from the land into the sky. Then
he ordered the building of the citadel with royal estates, including
the Can Nguyen (the Pavilion of Throne), where the King held
audiences, seven pavilions and three palaces. The Can Nguyen continued
to be the place for giving audiences of the succeeding Ly Kings, until
it was restored -and expanded into a four-storey building and renamed
Phung Thien (Heaven Phoenix) Pavilion of Audience.
The superb imperial palace quarter experienced restoration during the
prosperous Ly dynasties, but fell into ruins as the Ly degraded and
almost disappeared when the throne was taken over by the Tran in the
13th century. On the site of the Phung Thien the Tran Kings built
three new palaces, the Thien An, Bat Giao and Dien Hien.
upheavals greatly damaged the citadel. And the damage was much more
severe when the foreign aggressors came in later times. The Ming
troops from China invaded the Dai Viet and leveled the pavilions. In
1429, after defeating the northern invaders and returning the sacred
sword to the Tortoise Genie in Hoan Kiem Lake, Le Loi, or King Le Thai
To, built the Kinh Thien Pavilion on the site of the old royal
quarter. This palace was extremely well received for its beauty and
sanctity, brightening a dynasty that created a prosperous restoration
time for the Dai Viet. At this palace, the hero Quang Trung - Nguyen
Hue, who won great battles at Ngoc Hoi-Dong Da, held his wedding party
with the beautiful princess of King Le Hien Tong, Ngoc Han, then had a
great feast for the victory over the Qing invaders from China.
When the Nguyen moved the capital to Hue City in the Central region,
Thang Long Citadel was narrowed and became a town of a northern
precinct, Hanoi. Kinh Thien Pavilion was just for the stay of the
Kings' during their trips to the North or as a place for receptions
for ambassadors from northern countries.
By the end of the 19th century, Thang Long, then renamed Hanoi,
experienced two attacks by the French. The gunpowder store exploded
and the General Administrator Hoang Dieu commit suicide, but the royal
estate still remained.
Old features of the ancient citadel
has so far concealed a secret: the Forbidden Citadel, the heart of the
former dynasties. In reality, the citadel still stands there, but not
all people can imagine how it looked. It was the general headquarters
of Vietnam in the war of resistance against US imperialism for
national salvation, where historic commands of vital significance were
dispatched. In the last year of the century, Nguyen Tri Phuong Road
was opened up to visitors and that helps them visualize the former
Citadel area. Hanoi represents a land with ancient sublimity
throughout several dynasties. The Ly Dynasty reigned for more than 200
years (1010-1225), leaving an orderly and classical architecture. The
Tran Dynasty (1225-1400) built hundreds of royal palaces and
monuments, temples and residences, elegant and luxurious. During the
wars against the Mongols, the ancient capital was severely devastated.
The Tran made every effort to rebuild Thang Long. Then came the
Champas who set the city ablaze. During the Ming's domination
(1414-1427), the heritage left was found to be scant. Only after King
Le Thai To assumed the throne (1428-1433), restoring the capital and
renaming it as Dong Kinh, could it redeem the glory of a capital city.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Thang Long was fairly bustling and
prosperous. In the late 19th century, the Tay Son Dynasty (1789-1802)
changed its name to Bac Thanh. In 1831, King Minh Mang (1820-1840)
called it Hanoi.
soils of Hanoi nowadays still bear the traces of virtually all the
major historic dynasties. King Ly Thai To (1010-1028) - who founded
the capital of Thang Long in 1010 had the "Dien Can Nguyen" built
(later, it bore the names of Thien An and Phung Thien). Under the
Tran, it was the rendezvous of the landmark Dien Hong National
Conference. King Le Thai To (1428-1433) ordered the construction of
the Kinh Thien Palace as a hall for the convening of the court.
In 1802, King Gia Long mounted the throne as Emperor, ordering the
removal of the old royal citadel of the Le Dynasty and construction of
a new, smaller one, with an area of 1 sq.km, of Vauban style. The
square citadel with a zigzag borderline could provide an advantage to
observe and shoot in any direction. With a perimeter of 5, 142 meters
and a surrounding wall 4.6 meters high and 16 meters wide, the citadel
was built of bricks, with rock and laterite underlying the foundations
and a wooden cross - section on top with stairs for easy access for
sentry patrols. Deep moats, 15-16 meters wide, are found outside the
walls, with 5 gates: the North, South, East, West and Southwest. On
each gate, there were watch-towers.
the major structures inside the citadel are in line with the
South-North axis, whose relics now include the Flag Tower, the Doan
Mon Gate, the Kinh Thien Palace, and the North Gate.
The Flag Tower was built in 1812 and is a hexagonal tower, more than
41m high, with stairs inside leading to the top. It stands on a large
pyramid-shaped, trinity square pedestal, with the upper side measuring
15 meters and the base one, 42 meters. The middle pedestal layer has 3
doors: the " Nghenh Huc"(for early sunshine) facing East, the "Huong
Minh" (towards the sunlight) facing South, and the "Hoi Quang"
(reflecting the sunlight) facing North.
All the feudal palaces and monuments face South, hence the name of
"Doan Mon" of the Southern gate of the Forbidden Citadel. The "Doan
Mon" stands between the two side doors, the "Eastern Trang An" and the
"Western Trang An". All these monuments in disrepair are being
reconstructed or restored in accordance to their original design, with
traditional materials: "lim" iron wood from the provinces of Thanh Hoa,
Nghe An and Ha Tinh, rock and lime, paper and lacquer, large-size
bricks and tiles from Bat Trang, "slipper-shaped" roofing and ceramic
tiles. The relics of Doan Mon, Bac Mon, and Hau Lau (Princesses'
pavilion) are under restoration.
Kinh Thien Palace is situated in the heart of the Forbidden Citadel.
The palace experienced a large-scale restoration in 1428 to 1465. It
was used as a place for sacred ceremonies of the former kings. In
their invasion of Vietnam, the French colonialists ravaged the
Forbidden City and the palace was transformed into a bunker. However,
the floor of the palace today can still help people visualize this
historic monument to some extent. The Kinh Thien Palace was built on a
high platform with a surrounding verandah and large stairs. The palace
had two layers of roofing, perched on big iron wood pillars. The
delicate rock engravings of the dragon go well with the large stairs,
4.45 meters wide and 2.1 meters high. The two extant stone dragons are
symbolic of the great skills of the Vietnamese artisans under the Le
Ngoc Son Temple
Hoan Kiem Lake was already considered the most beautiful lake in Hanoi
when Ngoc Son Temple was built on an island in the 19th century.
Initially, the temple was called Ngoc Son Pagoda and was later renamed
Ngoc Son Temple, since temples are dedicated to saints. Saint Van
considered to be one of the brightest stars in Vietnam's literary and
intellectual circles, was worshipped there. National hero Tran Hung Dao
was also worshipped after he led the Vietnamese people to victory over the
The temple as it is today is the result of renovations made by Nguyen Van
Sieu in 1864. A great Hanoi writer, Nguyen Van Sieu had a large pen-shaped
tower built at the entrance of the temple. On the upper section of the
tower, also called Thap But, are three Chinese characters Ta Thanh Thien,
which literally means "to write on the blue sky is to imply the height of
a genuine and righteous person's determination and will"; Dai Nghien,
meaning "ink stand", is carved from stone resembling a peach placed on the
back of the three frogs on top of the gate to the temple; and The Huc,
meaning "where rays of morning sunshine touch".
On the way to the temple there are several cau doi, parallel sentences,
written on the walls. These cau doi were part of traditional word puzzles
played by educated individuals.
Friendship Cultural Palace:
The grandiose project was the gift of the central council of the trade
unions in the former Soviet Onion to the Vietnamese workers and trade
unions. The project was put into use on September 1,1958.
The palace is divided into three parts: The performing area, the study
area and the technical support area. The palace is located on an area of
3.2 hectares. The facade of the palace faces a square named Square May 1.
The palace has a total of 120 big and small rooms accessible through 20
staircases and two elevars. The palace can accommodate an audience of up
to 2,000 at the same time when many cultural activities take place such as
theatrical performances, cultural activities and sports and games.
Maison Centrale :
During the era of French Colonial rule of Vietnam, a prison was built in
the southwest of Hanoi, known as Maison Centrale. Designed for 1000
prisoners, it often had more than twice as many.
During the 1920s and 1930s it held many political prisoners, held there
for either their revolutionary ideas or actions. As such, it became a sort
of revolutionary university and holds a special place in the personal
history of many of the country's elite.
Most of the Maison Centrale has now been demolished, with only the
buildings on the bottom left side of the site being retained as a museum.
The remainder has been redeveloped as the Hanoi Commercial Centre, a
glossy glass-and-aluminum structure complete with offices, glitzy
apartments and a supermarket.
Maison Centrale Guillotine :
The ulimate punishment meted out to Vietnamese revolutionaries was an
appointment with Madame Guillotine.
Three instances during the interwar years are recorded in the museum,
one of which at least appeared to be punishment for writing a book.
Capital punishment enthusiasts should consider that it is commonly a
means of getting rid of political dissent, not only in Stalin's Soviet
Union but also in supposedly democratic nations such as France and its
territories. It was only in late 1995 that a group of greenies were
executed in Nigeria on trumped-up murder charges, while in the early 1950s
the Rosenbergs were fried in the USA on questionable legal grounds, but
certainly for being Communists.
Maison Centrale - Vietnamese Prisoners in the Maison Centrale :
For most of its life, the Maison Centrale was used to accommodate
Vietnamese prisoners. Much is made of the political prisoners kept here,
though no doubt common criminals would have constituted the bulk of the
Whatever their origins, the prisoners were treated badly, being locked
to benches such as those above for most of the time. The museum also shows
windowless cells where the recalcitrants were fastened to the concrete
floor for months on end, in the dark and incommunicado. Unsurprisingly,
such treatment sent many inmates insane.
Worse still, the use of torture was widespread. Part of the display is
devoted to techniques and instruments used by the French Police in
attempting to extract information from their charges.
Maison Centrale - The USAF "Hanoi Hilton" :
The Maison Centrale was pressed into service as a prison for captured US
airmen during the Vietnam War, at one stage accommodating over 400 of
them. They found the conditions rather spartan. How spartan is probably a
question difficult to resolve without first-hand and impartial evidence,
which the above photograph is not.
It is noticeable that the bed does not have a mattress. For a boy
raised with inner-spring comfort this is a shock, but in fact President Ho
Chi Minh did not have a mattress either! Similarly, the diet was probably
rice and a few trimmings, not enough to keep a young man from Iowa plump.
You do not see any fat people in Vietnam - and Charles lost a few kilos in
his six weeks there, despite eating plenty in reasonable restaurants.
That the first US Ambassador to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was a
former inmate suggests that the experience was tolerable. One wonders if
the 40,000 Viet Cong imprisoned in the Tiger Cages of Saigon or on
offshore islands were treated any better.
Hanoi Opera House :
Officially, this is the Municipal Theatre. In fact it is a magnificent
Opera House, with concerts and operas performed quite regularly. Some
people would say that the French built it, but it can be guaranteed that
all the real work was done by Vietnamese.
Whatever claims Sydney has to having a wonderful Opera House are easily
eclipsed by this structure in Hanoi.
Kiem Lake, in the centre of Hanoi :
Hoan Kiem Lake is the centre of Hanoi. The Old Quarter is at the north
end, the General Post Office on the east. Within the lake are two islands,
of which you see one here in the foreground and the other with the Ngoc
Son Pagoda is vaguely visible in the distance.
It is recorded that a giant tortoise took the sword of Emperor Le
Loi, with which he had defeated invading Chinese, and dived to the bottom
of the lake. The building you see on the island in this photograph is the
In 1968, a large freshwater turtle was recovered (presumably dead) from
the lake. It is preserved in the Ngoc Son Pagoda, where a plaque records
that it is about 500 years old. Apparently there are no turtles in
surrounding lakes and it is supposed that the animal was introduced to the
lake in the Middle Ages and spent 500 years in the lake on its own.
Pillars of Temple :
One thing that is a bit of mystery to the modern academic is: "What did
the students do here?" There are a few buildings which appear to have the
functions of classrooms, but no obvious library or lecture facilities. One
answer is probably low enrolments. There were only an average of three
doctoral graduates per year.
Another answer lies perhaps in some of the museum illustrations, where
students are sitting cross legged doing calligraphy and reading. No
furniture, nor indeed, specialist buildings are required for this.
An orchestra was playing at the end of this line of pillars - just to
the right of where the people are standing. Unfortunately for you, the
concert itself was recorded on video and is not available on the Net. It
was very charming, with mostly female musicians in traditional costume
playing xylophones, interesting pipe instruments and something that looked
like a Japanese harp (koto).