Founded after the coronation of Dinh Tien Hoang, Hoa Lu was the first capital of a central feudalized state in Vietnam.
This court was home to three consecutive monarchies: the Dinh, pre-Le and Ly
Vietnam’ history of national foundation and preservation has spanned over 4000 years and resulted in different political centers, ranging from the original Phong Chau capital of the Hung kings to Thang Long - Hanoi.
Among the nation’s past and present capitals, Hoa Lu remains in our thoughts, not due to colossal ruin or lost palaces, but because, after prolonged Han colonization, it was the site of a long and proud era of splendid independence.
Founded after the coronation of Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang, Hoa Lu was the first capital of a centralized feudal stare in Vietnam. It was home to three consecutive dynasties, namely the Dinh, pre-Le and Ly. Its integral role was undeniable until Thang Long was chosen as the next strategic political center at the behest of Emperor Ly Cong Uan.
Nowadays, Hoa Lu draws tourists and pilgrims who view it as a sacred place, an ancient cultural cradle and as a tourist site that offers breath taking natural beauty. Surrounded by mountain ranges and crystal streams visitors will find mausoleums, peaceful huts and a complex of Dinh - Le Temples where mysterious historical and cultural relics are still waiting to be unearthed.
While the Eastern Gate of Hoa Lu’s formal citadel is a late structure, its carving patterns and three-tiered roofs seem to hint at the gigantic scale of the long done citadel. On its green marble surface the gate features carving patterns that are unique to Ninh Binh. After 1000 years of chaos and destruction, key structures in Hoa Lu have all vanished. During the foundation of Thanh Long as the capital, Ly Cong Uan ordered most palaces. Pavilions and military outpost in Hoag Lu to be relocated to Thanh Long.
Fortunately, some religious temples and archeological sites remain to help us to decipher the layout of the citadel. Dinh Temple and Le Temple, which are dedicated to Dinh Tien Hoang and the Pre-Le Emperors, are here to stay. Despite successive restorations they retain their original architecture.
The building of these tow structures got underway in the Ly dynasty. They were then rebuilt in the Post-Le dynasty. Small and humble, these temples remind us of ancient palaces. After each gate is a separate space to eventually lead us to the Forbidden Palace, where the altar of the Le Emperors stand.
Meanwhile, Dinh Tien Hoang temple is a unique example of 17th century wooden Vietnamese Architecture. The treasures in Dinh Tien Hoang Temple include brinks bearing the words: “the Citadel
Of Dai Viet’s Emperor” pillars carved with Buddhist scripture in Sanskrit, and stone steles. A witness of the nation’s sovereignty and a solemn religious site, the temple also earns visitors ‘admiration thanks to the exquisite sculptures on its wooden columns. A testament to the artistry of Vietnam’s ancient wood carvers, similar carvings can unfortunately only be found in a handful of other architectural structures.
Le Dai Hanh Temple stands 300m from Dinh Tien Hoang Temple. Its smaller scale makes the interior feel more mysterious. The unique feature of this temple is its sophisticated and refined wood sculptures, which date from the 17th century.
Many generations of painters have visited and learned from this temple. According to legend, Le Dai Hanh’s mother dimly saw lotuses in a dream and gave birth to her son while working on a lotus pond. As a result, within the temple lies a small lotus pond. On the ceiling beams and pillars, carpenters portrayed old legends about the genial Emperor Le Dai Hanh.
Although there are many structures in this complex, the two temples of the Dinh and Le Emperors draw the most attention due to their beauty and well-preserved relics. Within the complex of the former citadel, ancient pagodas such as Ba Ngo, Co Am and am Tien still house Buddhist relics, some of which date back to the 10th century. Dinh Tien Hoang was the first monarch to establish ranks for Buddhist monks and install the first national Lama, namely Khuong Viet. Interestingly, during that time a remarkable number of pagodas were built inside limestone grottos, or leaning against mountains. Typical cavern pagodas include Hoa Son, Thien Ton, Bich Dong, Dich Long, Bai Dinh and Linh Coc.
The Yen Thanh Communal House, which is located near Le Dai Hanh temple, was built by the emperor to propagate Buddhism. Its pillars inscribed with Buddhist scripture remain intact after 1000 years: They are the oldest stone scriptures in Vietnam.
Bai Dinh pagoda consists of one original pavilion and one newly built pavilion with an altar dedicated to Saint Nguyen, a lit grotto for Buddha, a dark grotto for the Fairies and a temple for the God Cao Son. The complex of Bai Dinh Pagoda is set in a central position according to traditional beliefs, which view it as the “Homeland of Emperor, Saints and Gods”. Bai Dinh is now the largest pagoda in Southeast Asia.
Hoa Lu is a forceful reminder of the Vietnamese people’s prowess. It serves as tangible witnesses of the independence of the Dai Co Viet State, which has always endured in our hearts.
Travel tip shared by Ha Nguyen