Hanoi 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.(Hanoi Travel Guide)
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.
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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. The 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 laetrile 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.
All 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. The 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 Dynasty.