Welcome to the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long – Hanoi!
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
Opening Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 08:00 – 17:00
Location: 9 Hoang Dieu, Dien Bien, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi
Price Range: VND 30,000
Situated at the heart of Hanoi, the Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is an outstanding place of interest not only for the capital city but also for the country as a whole. The site is one of the ten special national heritage sites proclaimed by the Prime Minister in 2009 and was inscribed on the World Heritage List by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee in 2010. Its Outstanding Universal Values are reflected in its historical longevity, its continuous role as a seat of power, and its multiple cultural layers.
The World Heritage Site comprises two sections: the archaeological site at 18 Hoang Dieu Street and the central axis of the Nguyen Dynasty’s Citadel of Hanoi, which together create an integrated heritage complex. This was the most important sector of Thang Long Citadel, the capital of Dai Viet under the Ly, Tran, and Le dynasties from the 11th to the 18th centuries. It was also the core of the earlier Dai La Citadel, dating from the period when the region was ruled directly by China (7th to 9th centuries) and the headquarters of the North Vietnamese government and army during the Resistance War against the Americans (also known as the Vietnam War) between 1954 and 1975.
Standing monuments in the Nguyen Dynasty’s Ancient Citadel include the Flag Tower (Ky Dai), the South Gate (Doan Mon), the Kinh Thien Palace Foundation, the Princess’s Pagoda (Hau Lau), and the North Gate (Bac Mon).
The 18 Hoang Dieu Archaeological Site, located about 100 meters to the West of Kinh Thien Palace Foundation, is an important part of the Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long-Hanoi. This is a site of immense archaeological value, which accommodates a huge complex of architectural relics and an exceedingly large volume of artifacts overlapping and alternating one another, dating back to the Dai La (7th to 9th centuries), Dinh Dynasty, Anterior Le Dynasty (10th century), Ly Dynasty (1009-1225), Tran Dynasty (1226-1400), Early Le Dynasty (1428-1527), Restored Le Dynasty (1593-1789) and Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945).
The standing monuments and subterranean vestiges of palaces, together with numerous other unique artifacts unearthed in the Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long-Hanoi are invaluable assets not only of Vietnam but also the entire human race.
1. Hanoi Flag Tower
Hanoi Flag Tower is situated in Dien Bien Phu Street, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi which was built in 1812 under King Gia Long’s reign, Nguyen Dynasty in the sounthern part of Thang Long Imperial Citadel where Tam Mon Palace under Le Dynasty had been built. This tower marked the beginning point of the southerly central axis, followed by Doan Mon Gate and Kinh Thien Palace – the central and most important point. Hanoi Flag Tower remains an undamaged and the most imposing structure in the entire Thang Long Imperial Vestige.
The Flag Tower includes three-tier basement and a column three storeys and a tower. The truncated square pyramid-shaped storeys are faced with bricks. The first tier has the length of each side of 42.5m, the height of 3.1m and two brick staircases. The second tier has the length of each side of 27m, the height of 3.7m with 4 doors facing four directions. Except the North one, the other three are inscribed with two characters relevant to its direction: East door – Nghênh Húc (To welcome dawn’s sunlight), South door – Hướng Minh (Directed to the sunlight), West door – Hồi Quang (To reflect light). The third tier is a square of 12.5m each side and 5.1m high. There is a spiral staircase leading from the first to the third tier.
The part above the third tier is a column with 8 fringes narrower to the top. Each fringe is 2.13m wide and 18.2m high. The spiral staircase consists of 54 steps. It is lightened and ventilated by 39 flower-shaped and 6 fan-shaped windows which scatter along the fringes with 5 or 6 on each.
On top of the tower is an octagonal observatory of 3.3m high with 8 doors in 8 sides. In the middle of it, there is a round base of 0.4 meter in diameter and 8m high up to the top where the national flag is fixed. The whole architecture is 33.4m high from its basement up to the top including three tiers of 12m, column of 18.2m and observatory of 3.3m. If including the round base for flagging on top, the structure is 41.4m high.
Hanoi Flag Tower is one of the rare architectural works in Hanoi Citadel that was fortunate enough to not be destroyed by the French domination administration between 1894 and 1897.
On October 10th, 1954, the red flag with yellow star, the National Flag, flied on the top of Hanoi Flag Tower for the first time which was recognized as the historical monument in 1989. That day, the people jubilantly welcomed the Festival of Victory, the day Hanoi became completely liberated. The people marched towards Hanoi Flag Tower, waiting for a historic moment: the hoisting ceremony of National Flag on the top of Hanoi Flag Tower.
At 3pm on October 10th, 1954, the siren of Hanoi Opera House wailed for a while. And then, while the military band was playing the national anthem under the direction of Comrade Dinh Ngoc Lien, the National Flag was gradually hoisted. For the first time, the red flag with yellow star, the National Flag, flied on the top of Hanoi Flag Tower. Until now, Hanoi Flag Tower is nearly 200 years old. When Democratic Republic of Vietnam was born, the image of Hanoi Flag Tower was solemnly printed on the first coins of Vietnam State Bank.
For more than half of a century, plugged on the top of Hanoi Flag Tower, the red flag with yellow star has flied in the sky of Thang Long – Hanoi Capital of thousand years tradition as a symbol of glory and pride of an independence and freedom Vietnam. According to study documents, since 1986, a 24m2 red flag with yellow star has always streamed over Hanoi Flag Tower.
Nowadays, Hanoi Flag Tower is situated by Dien Bien Phu Street with ancient nacre trees a luxuriant garden of longan trees.
According to some researches, in a photo taken in 1890 by Louis Sadoul, a French army medical officer, the current Lenin Park near to Hanoi Flag Tower had the name of Elephant Lake because this was the place for bathing elephants under Nguyen Dynastry. The current ancient trees still had not been grown. We can also see in the photo that French army set up relatively firm camps on the storeys of the Tower.
Additioanlly, during this time, Hanoi Flag Tower was used as an observation tower by French Army. In American war, it was also an observation tower of Hanoi’s air defence forces. At that time, from the top of the tower, it was possible to observe the whole Hanoi and the suburb.
A special thing is that during the hottest days in Hanoi, the atmosphere inside the Tower is always cool. The structure of doors is so scientific that the rainwater can not flow into the Tower however heavy the rain is.
2. Kinh Thien Palace
Kinh Thien Palace is the central area among the overall vestiges in Thang Long – Hanoi Imperial Citadel. It used to be a palace of great significance where the court held the most solemn rituals, welcomed foreign emissaries and gave audience to discuss affairs of state.
French soldiers taking photos on the steps of Kinh Thien Palace during the encamping period here. (Taken by Doctor Charles – Edouard Hocquard during 1884 -1885)
According to history
According to “The Complete History of Dai Viet”, Kinh Thien Palace started to be built in 1428 under the reign of King Le Thai To and completed under the reign of King Le Thanh Tong. It was built on the former foundation of Can Nguyen – Thien An Palace under Ly – Tran Dynasties in Nung Mountain.
King Ly Thai To named the Audience Palace Can Nguyen as the centre of the heaven and earth where he seated on the throne to rule the country. Succeeding Ly Dynasty, Tran and Le Dynasties continued to construct the the fortress system here. The area of great importance was Forbidden Palace (Dragon Palace or Dragon and Phoenix Palace) the centre of which was Can Nguyen and Thien An Palaces under Ly – Tran Dynasties and Kinh Thien Palace under Le Dynasty.
Since 1788, when King Quang Trung set up the capital in Phu Xuan – Hue followed by Nguyen Dynasty (1802 – 1945), Thang Long became the headquarter of Northern Citadel.
In 1805, King Gia Long ordered to build this area as the royal step-over palace for Nguyen Kings during their trips to the North. The name Hanoi Ancient Citadel originated in 1831 when King Minh Mang implemented an adminstrative reform in which provinces through out the country including Hanoi were established. Hanoi Citadel became the headquarters of Hanoi Province.
During French domination at the end of XIXth century, French colonialists destroyed Kinh Thien royal step-over palace and built a headquarters of artillery which was then called Dragon Courtyard (aka Long Tri) because there were stone dragons in the front and at the back.
After October 10th, 1954, when Vietnamese Army took over the capital, this area became the headquarters of the Ministry of Defence.
In 2004, the Ministry of Defence handed over a part of the centre of Thang Long – Hanoi Imperial Citadel to Hanoi People’s Committee.
Kinh Thien Palace is the central monument and the core in the overall historic sites within Hanoi Ancient Citadel. Doan Mon (the Main Gate) and the Flag Tower of Hanoi are situated in the front of Kinh Thien Palace, Hau Lau (Princess’ Palace) and Cua Bac (Northern Gate) at the back, walls and smaller gates in the east and west. Along with some other relics in the ancient citadel, all these gates were classified as a historical monument by French Protective State in 1925.
Kinh Thien Palace was the central construction of the entire imperial palace under Le Dynasty (XVth – XVIIIthcenturies) in Thang Long – Dong Kinh (Hanoi). In 1428, after defeating Ming Dynastry invaders, King Le Thai To continued to set up the capital in Thang Long, ordered to renew the damaged royal citadel. Kinh Thien Palace was built during this period of time. In 1886, it was destroyed. Nowadays, only ruins of steps and palace foundation remain (within the Hanoi Ancient Citadel).
In 1886, French soldiers built a two-storey building on the foundation of Kinh Thien Palace as the Headquarters of Artillery
Observing the architecture of Kinh Thien Palace in photographs taken by the French at the end of XIXth century, we can see that Kinh Thien Palace is a timber architecture with two “二” shape parts. The palace was built with the architecuture of 2 floors and 8 roofs with curved corners. The rooftop of the two storeys was sculpted with two dragons flanking to the sun. Around the palace, a large courtyard was surrounded with banisters.
Traces of KinhThienPalace are now only the old foundation. The foundation of the palace was 57m long, 41.5, wide and 2.3m high. The steps were built with granite and formed three entrances. In the south, the palace foundation still had handrail corridor of higher than 100 cm. In the front, the south of KinhThienPalace was the palace threshold built with large slates with 10 steps; the 4 stone dragons divided the steps into 3 alleys, forming the Royal Threshold. The steps were 13.7m long, 4.45m wide and 2.1m high with the two stone dragons carved in 1467 which were still relatively intact artifacts.
KinhThienPalace stone dragons were a masterpiece, representing the sculpture under early Le Dynasty. Carved with green rock, the dragons had raised big heads, round convex eyes, long horns, and mane gliding back. The dragon body formed many small curves, smaller toward the palace foundation; on the back, there was a long fin heaving like clouds or fire.
In the north of KinhThienPalace, there was another threshold of 7 steps, smaller than the main threshold in the south. The two sides of the threshold had two stone dragons dating King Le Trung Hung’s time (XVII century – XVIII century); the dragons were 3.4m long with 7 curves; the body had fin and scales; the feet had 5 claws, etc. The two sides of the handrails were decorated with lotus, waves, swords, fire and clouds, etc.
The foundation and threshold are meager relics of palace architecture under the Le Dynasty that remains to this day, partly reflecting the grand scale of Kinh Thien Palace in the past.
Nowadays, the space has become a “double” relic for the two eras, i.e. Kinh Thien Palace of Thang Long ancient imperial citadel and the Headquarter of General Commander of the Vietnam People’s Army – an important relic on modern Vietnamese history.
Since November, 2004, officially open to visitors, the ancient citadel – KinhThienPalace has become one of the sights extremely attractive to tourists.
Research for restoration of Kinh Thien Palace ambience
Many years ago, the restoration of Kinh Thien Palace was brought forward by scientists and Hanoi city leaders. However, because of the unfinished research and the incomplete documentation for proposing UNESCO to recoginize the centre of Thang Long Imperial Citadel as an International Cultural Heritage, the idea was not put into practice. Till now, after considering the people’s aspirations and with the support of researchers, the idea of restoring Kinh Thien Palace to help the residents have intimate feeling with the the appearance of ancient Thang Long has been mentioned again.
According to History Professor Phan Huy Le, Hanoi Municipal Authority also desires to restore Kinh Thien Palace, but the restoration of an ancient architecture satisfying scientific requirements, i.e.the adequacy of parameters and bases, is beyond our conditions. However, we can apply 3D technology to restore to the extent we can. We can demonstrate to visitors how the relics used to be, for example where a piece of bricks or decorations were placed, etc. Currently, this construction is being carried out by Institute of Archaeology and Japanese scientists.
Professor Le said that not many surface architectural constructions in Thang Long Imperial Citadel remained; under the ground, there were only traces of foundations, drains and wells overlaying on top of each other. KinhThienPalace had more traces because the palace foundation still remained and there was a photograph taken by the French. The photo was real, but it was taken under the Nguyen Dynasty, not KinhThienPalace in Forbidden Citadel in ancient Thang Long.
According to historical documents, in 1816 KinhThienPalace had collapsed and King Gia Long ordered to destroy it to rebuild the royal step-over palace. From the photo, it is difficult to restore the royal step-over palace; it is even harder to restore KinhThienPalace. It is necessary to carry out archaeological excavations around KinhThienPalace to understand it. In the coming time, it we can restore with 3D technology, then gradually restore in reality with the participation of experts, especially international experts.
Professor Le said that in the world there were two schools of reconstruction. The first was the East school, especially Japan. They wanted to carry out an extremely meticulous resurrection of relics with scientific bases as they did to the ancient capital of Nara. The second was the West school. They wanted to preserve the status quo of the relics. Vietnam should combine the beauty of these two schools. First of all, to preserve the original relics; if restored, first of all use 3D reconstruction technology; when possible, carry out the reconstruction in the reality.
According to Dr. Nguyen Van Son, Director of the Center for Thang Long – Hanoi Relics Preservation, the resurrection of the ancient architecture in the old capital in some countries has been carried out and highly appreciated by researchers such as the resurrection of Dai Kim Palace in Nara Ancient Capital in Japan or of the ancient capital in Korea.
Nara, the ancient capital of Japan
The restoration of KinhThienPalace is quite complicated, requiring the contributions of many specialties, wise and enthusiastic professors, researchers, historians. The research is not only based on traces of KinhThienPalace, i.e. the old foundation with stone steps but also documents and photos about this architecture. In addition, the archaeological excavations to reveal the building materials, the way to arrange the column footing, foundation of the old palace, etc. also play an extremely important role in the reconstruction process.
That is our desire; however, the reconstruction certainly can not be carried out right now but needs a route. Currently, the entire palace foundation remains; some relics relating to the palace architecture such as two handrails, the stone dragons in the front and at the back which are almost intact. Not only that, the image of Kinh Thien Palace under the Le Dynasty before 1886, i.e. before the French demolished the palace and built artillery house is stored in pretty good condition in archives.
3. Chinh Bac Mon
Chinh Bac Mon (Main Northern Gate ) or Cua Bac (Northern Gate of Thang Long Imperial Citadel) is situated in Phan Dinh Phung Street which was built in 1805 and is the only remaining gate to Hanoi Citadel under Nguyen Dynasty.
Documentary photo of Northern Gate taken by Doctor Hocquard during 1884 – 1885. The citadel was surrounded with a wide moat and a bridge leading to the gate. At that time, traces of cannons fired from French battleships in 1882 could be seen.
Northern Gate was built in 1805 on the foundation of Northern Gate under Le Dynasty with the architecture of watch tower gazebo – the watch tower was built on the wall of 8.71 m height, 17.08m width and with 2.48m walls.
The watch tower was built with wooden frames of eight roof style and four doors into four directions. Rain-water on the watch tower gazebo was drained with two stone gutters.
Standing on the gate, imperial troops could observe the outside and inside of the citadel as well as movement of the enemy. Therefore, after ocuppying Hanoi Citadel, French army still had to use the watch tower gazebo as the sentry box.
Currently, the watch tower gazebo is being restored partly for worshiping two province chiefs of Hanoi Citadel i.e. Nguyen Tri Phuong and Hoang Dieu who sacrified for not being able to defend the citadel under the assault of French army. Many residents often visit the watch tower gazebo of North Gate and burn incense in commemoration of the two national heros – whose names are given for the two modern streets beside the ancient citadel.
The rampart was solidly built with stone and bricks; the rampart footing was fortified with stone. The gate was erected with a brick arch in which a horizontal bricks was interposed with a vertical brick. The size of bricks was 35.5 cm x 10 cm x 12 cm. The size of stone pedestal was from 38 to 86 cm.
Edges of the gate were rectangular, decorated with the image of lotus. The two wooden doors were renovated with the total area of 24m2 and the weight of about 16 tons, running on copper wheels weighing about 80 kg. At the outside of the gate, above the doors, there are Chinese characters curved in stone, meaning North Gate, decorated with the image of strings of flowers.
North Gate at the present
According to historical data and documentary photos taken during the time of Hanoi Citadelwas not undamaged, there were two triangle wings leading to the gazebo.
In front of North Gate, a brick bridge crossed a 20m moat which surrounded the citadel. By observation, we can see that the the moat was located at the lawn, sidewalks and a part of Phan Dinh Phung Street.
Some say that the bridge over the moat to North Gate was a solid brick bridge, not a suspension bridge; the moat was not dug for defensive purpose. However, many other think that, though it was not a suspension bridge, but the target’s defensive moat encircling the ancient citadel was essential – it helped to limit the enemy to approach the rampart.
Although North Gate was built by the Nguyen Dynasty, but below the imposing gate, there were many layers of relics of citadels from the previous dynasties, confirming the continuity of the thousand-year history of the Imperial Citadel.
In 1998, at North Gate, archaeologists found many architectural traces at the depth of 1.66 m and 2.2 m, including traces of rampart walls built of stone and wooden-hammer brick under the Le Dynasty.
Today, North Gate becomes an interesting attraction for domestic and foreign tourists. Visitors can easily see at the outside of North Gate, there are still two bullet holes caused by the France cannon when they used gunboats to attack Hanoi from Red River in 1882.
North Gate is not only a leftover of Hanoi Ancient Citadel, but also a testament to the heroic struggle of Hanoi People and Army in the early days against the occupation of the French to Hanoi.
4. Doan Mon (Main Gate)
Doan Mon is one of the main entrances to the Forbidden City. Basing on construction materials and remaining architectural style of the relics, it can be affirmed that current Doan Mon was built under Le Dynasty and restored in Nguyen Dynastry.
The monument is situated in the south of Kinh Thien Palace on the same axis with Hanoi Flag Tower. Doan Mon was built horizontally in U-shape. Doan Mon was built in the style of ancient city wall with five gates symmetrically erecting through a “deity axis”, also known as the “righteousness axis” of the Imperial Citadel.
The main architectural part followed watch tower gazebo style with three rolling arches. Rolling arch architecture at the gates not only brought graceful curves, but also had excellent load-bearing structures. Till now, the most modern and spectacular tunnel projects in the world are still using this architecture.
Materials are mostly wooden-hammer bricks, a popular type of bricks under Le Dynasty and rock which were used for building the arch. The distance from the east to west was 47.5 meters; from south to north 13m; the wings were 26.5 meters wide and 6 meters high.
The biggest middle door dedicated to the king was 4m high and 2.7 m wide. Both sides had 4 smaller doors which were 2.5 m wide and 3.8 m high dedicated for mandarins and other royal family members when being ordered with or to attend big ceremonies at KinhThienPalace.
The stone plaque carved with two words Doan Mon, mounted above the main door, was 1.5 m long and 0.7 m wide. On the two sides, there were small brick steps leading to the second floor. This floor had an area corresponding to the middle door. Due to being renovated to serve as the basis for the army, the old architecture could not be researched. On the roof of the second floor, a small communal house was built with the style of two-storeys and eight roofs. The two ends of the roof ridge were built with two dragons; the two gables were built with tigers; the four corners of the roof formed four crescent blades.
In 1999, archaeologists chose an excavation pit right in the middle of Doan Mon Gate to find traces of the Ngu Dao (Royal Faith) path. At a depth of 1.2 m, archaeologists found a paving stone border of Doan Mon Gate wall footing and a wooden-hammer brick paved courtyard under Le Dynasty. At the depth of 1.9 m, they also found traces of a path paved with “lemon flower” bricks under Tran Dynasty. According to north-south direction, the road is expected to last for more and it’s probably the path from Doan Mon Gate to Thien An Palace under Tran Dynasty. It is
noteworthy that in some paths under Tran Dynasty, Ly Dynasty bricks were still used. Thus the archeological results in Doan Mon reinforce the hypothesis about Doan Mon Gate that Ly, Tran and Le Dynasties were basically located in the same place.
5. Hau Lau (Princess Palace)
Hau Lau is about 2.392m2, once known as Tinh Bac Lau (Palace that keeps the North peace), was built after the Later Le dynasty, the whereabouts for living and daily activities of the queen and the princess. Under Nguyen Dynasty, Hau Lau was used as the residence of imperial concubines and followers who accompanied the King to Bac Ha.
The palace was built of bricks; the lower part has rectangular parallelepiped shape. The lower floor had three levels of roof; the upper floor had two levels of roofs. Lầu dưới có ba tầng mái, lầu trên là hai tầng mái.The roof modeled after Vietnamese traditional architecture of multi-level roof with crescent blades; the entire roof was built with brick and concrete structure but the outer surface was built like tiles.
In 1998, with the consent of the Ministry of Culture and Information, the Institute of Archaeology in collaboration with the Management Board of Hanoi scenery held 2 stages of archaeological excavation into two holes at the ruins of Hau Lau.