While most of Hanoi's ancient Thang Long citadel was destroyed by the French colonialists, the remnants provide fascinating insight into Vietnam's history.
Luu Quang Pho visits this important site, which has been granted UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site status.
"The North Gate, or Cua Bac, bears holes made by cannon balls fired from French warships." Once a prohibited area, the Old Hanoi Citadel is now open to the public.
On July 31st, 2010, the World Heritage Committee recognized the Thang Long Royal Citadel as a World Cultural Heritage Site. This site is a source of great pride to the people of Hanoi and Vietnamese people in general.
In late 2003, the Institute Archaeology announced the initial findings of the largest excavation in Vietnam at 18 Hoang Dieu Street in the BaDinh district of Hanoi. People were amazed by what had been exposed. The deepest layer contained evidence of buildings from the pre Thang Long period (7th-9th centuries AD), or the Dai La Citadel. Wooden columns had remained intact in the clay environment created by the alluvium of the Red River. There were also ancient wells and roof tiles decorated with terracotta animal heads.
The next layer contained architectural traces from the Ly-Tran dynasties (11th- 14th centuries AD), including a foundation buttress, foundation columns carved with dragon motifs, a tiled base, and drainage canals. Archaeologists also found sophisticated decorative architectural relies like phoenix heads, bo tree leaves, and dragon figures, confirming that the manufacturing technology, kilns and skills of the era were quite advanced. After nearly a millennium, the colored glaze remained intact.
The top layer of the excavation at 18 Hoang Dieu Street revealed remnants from the Le dynasty (15th-18th centuries AD) with structures made of wooden hammered bricks and walled wells, particularly fascinating are roof tiles decorated with five clawed dragons designed for royal palaces and ceramic objects for royal use.
The objects unearthed at this site span more than 1,000 years, confirming the continuous development of Thang Long Citadel as reported in historical documents. This find is of great cultural and historical value. These archaeological findings and those found on the surface in the Central Sector of Thang Long Citadel give us a more complete picture of the continuous evolution of Thang Long capital as the seat of power of the Dai Viet kingdom from the 11th to the 18th centuries AD. For this reason, UNESCO recognized the Citadel as a World Heritage Site on the occasion of the 1,000th anniversary of Hanoi
According to the World Heritage Committee, the Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long Hanoi testifies to the interaction between Chinese culture in the north and the Champa kingdom in the south of the country, which resulted in a unique culture in Vietnam's Red River Delta. This heritage also confirms the ancient civilization of the Viet people and the existence of a sea of continuous political power since the 7th century AD. As the political centre of the country, Thang Long oversaw the formation and evolution of an independent nation even during the colonial era and the two wars of resistance into modern times.
When the Nguyen dynasty came to power and relocated the capital to Hue, Thang Long remained as important as ever. In 1805, the flag pole of Hanoi was built by King Gia Long when he rebuilt the Hanoi Citadel. This special structure, which stands in the compound of the present day Museum of Military History of Vietnam, suffered no damage during any war.
The Nguyen dynasty ordered the repair of the South Gate (Doan Mon) after its renovation under the Le Dynasty. In 1999 the area below this gate was excavated. Many relics from various feudal regimes were found, such as bricks from the Le period, tiled pathways from the earlier Tran dynasty, and baked bricks with chrysanthemum decorations from the Ly court.
Apart from Doan Mon, all that is left of the Kinh Thien Palace today is nine dragons decorated stone steps made in 1467 under Emperor Le Thanh Tong, At the back of the palace's yard stands a pair of small dragons made in the late 17th century. Behind the Kinh Thien Palace stands the Hau Lau (Back Tower) and Bac Mon (Northern Gate), or Cua Vac, as often called today. These are the only remnants of the former Hanoi Citadel, as the French occupiers had it demolished in order to obtain bricks for their new constructions. The Northern Gate stands as a reminder of the French occupation as its facade bears holes made by two cannon balls. The cannon balls were fired from French ships on the Red River during the attacks of 1882.
Inside the Citadel stands the D67 Building another historical structure built during the war (1954-1975). It was in this building that the Politburo of the Workers' Party of Vietnam (now the Communist Party of Viet Nam) and the Central Military Party Commission held regular meetings from 1967 to 1975.
As it was built in 1967, the building was named D67. This building features a nine meter deep underground bomb shelter with three stairs where the generals could work during U.S, bombardments. Today, visitors may come here to see the place where the generals made important decisions on how to lead the war against the U.S, imperialists, and to see simple yet historically interesting objects like electric table fans and mechanical telephones.
One a prohibited area, the Old Hanoi Citadel is now open to the public. Placed under the management of the Hanoi Ancient Wall Co Loa Vestiges Preservation Center, the Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long Hanoi is an interesting place to visit. Before touring this historic site, visitors should check out the following website.
Travel tip shared by Lanh Nguyen