Thang Long Imperial Citadel

Thang Long Imperial Citadel

Hanoi, Vietnam
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As the capital city of Vietnam under the Ly, Tran and Le dynasties, it houses a great deal of priceless cultural-historical relics of the ancient Thang Long imperial citadel. It was recognized as a world cultural heritage site by the UNESCO in August, 2010.

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Opening hours

  • Day: All days except Monday.
  • Time: From 8:00 a.m to 5:00 p.m.

Entrance fee

  • Adults: VND 30,000/person/tour
  • Children under the age of 15 and people who were of meritorious service to the country during the war are exempt from tickets.
  • Vietnamese students (Student card must be presented upon purchase of tickets): VND 15,000
  • Senior people (60 or above – ID card must be presented upon purchase of tickets): VND 15,000

Thang Long Imperial Citadel is located in Ba Dinh district in downtown Hanoi. It is an outstanding place of interest not only for the capital city but also for the country as a whole.

The history of Thang Long imperial citadel

As the capital city of Vietnam under the Ly, Tran and Le dynasties, it houses a great deal of priceless cultural-historical relics of the ancient Thang Long imperial citadel. It was recognized as a world cultural heritage site by the UNESCO in August, 2010.

The ancient Thang Long citadel was encircled by three incorporated forts. The smallest and most inner enclosure was Tu Cam Thanh (Forbidden City) where the king, queens and concubines lived in seclusion. The area was called by different names by different dynasties, including Cung Thanh (under the Ly dynasty), Long Phuong Thanh (under the Tran dynasty) and Cam Thanh (under the Le dynasty). Tu Cam Thanh was entered by a single gate called Doan Mon (the main gate). The second fort (the middle ring) was Hoang Thanh (imperial citadel), where the royal court, offices and residence of mandarins were located. Under the Ly, Tran and Le dynasties, Hoang Thanh was entered by four entrances, entailing Tuong Phu to the east, Quang Phuc to the west, Dai Hung to the south and Dieu Duc to the north. Under the Nguyen dynasty, the capital city was transferred to Hue in the central region.

King Gia Long then ordered the demolition of walls surrounding the Thang Long royal citadel reasoning that it only acted as Tran Bac Thanh (the northern defensive fortification) and requested the building of a new, smaller citadel called Hanoi citadel. Hoang Thanh had five entrances – the eastern, western, northern, south-western and north-eastern.

At present, only the northern gate (Bac Mon) remains at Phan Dinh Phung street. The outer fort was Kinh Thanh (imperial city), where the general public lived. Surrounded by the Hong, To Lich and Kim Nguu rivers, Kinh Thanh acted as a dyke system for the capital city. Under the Le dynasty, Thang Long citadel was entered by 16 gates, which was reduced to 12 under the Nguyen dynasty. In early 20th century, there were only five entrances, including Cho Dua, Dong Mac, Cau Den, Cau Giay and Quan Chuong. At present, there remains only Quan Chuong gate (formerly called Dong Ha Mon, meaning a river gate to the east).

Though having survived to the age of over 1,000 years, the ancient majestic of many palaces of Thang Long citadel has no longer existed. However, relics and artefacts excavated from the site have somehow helped revive the former appearance of Thang Long and provided an insight into the existence and evolvement of the land of an ascending dragon over the past 10 centuries.

The Doan Mon gate of Thang Long imperial citadel

Doan Mon is the main entrance to the Forbidden City belonging to the Central sector of Imperial Citadel of Thang Long – Hanoi.

Doan Mon is directed toward the south because it’s the most important direction for ancient structures of Vietnamese. The gate was built in the Le Dynasty (15th century) with restorations carried out during the Nguyen Dynasty (19th century). Doan Mon, together with an area behind it formerly known as Long Tri (Dragon Courtyard), played a very important role in the ceremonies of the Royal Citadel such as the ceremony for national loyalty Oath (1128); Nhan Vuong Festival, Quang Chieu Colored Lantern Festival (1136); the parade of imperial guards (1351) and ceremonies for the mandarin examinations (1457, 1466, 1481, 1496).

When Hanoi Citadel was destroyed by French colonialists in late 19th century, Doan Mon has been one of some structures which has still existed. Doan Mon constructed of stone and brick has three floors. The first floor includes 5 doors, of which the central door reserved for the Emperor is the largest one with 4m in height and 2.7m in width. A stone tablet with the words “Doan Mon” in Chinese characters is fixed above the central door. There are two smaller doors (3.8m in height and 2.5m in width) in the each side of the central door reserved for the mandarins and members of the royal family. In addition, there are also two secondary gates in the both side of the main entrance.

The second floor is surrounded by a balustrade and reached by two flights of stairs. Its doors are opening to the east, west, south and north and decorated with hexagons, crosses, lozenges and the Chinese symbol for longevity. The third floor features a gazebo-style pavilion with two-layer roof. The first layer of roof is tiled and ornamented with dragons at the up-turned corners. The upper layer of roof, also tiled, features decorative foliage at the up-turned corners and dragon heads at each end of the ridge line. The two layers of roof are separated by short timber walls. Dragon faces adorn the gables.

After the Vietnam military liberated the capital in 1954, Hanoi Citadel including Doan Mon has become head office of Ministry of National Defense. In 1998, Ministry of National Defense handed Doan Mon over to Hanoi People’s Committee with total area of 3,970m². Doan Mon has been opened for visitors since October, 2011.

Bac Mon Gate

Bac Mon remains the only entrance to Hanoi Citadel under the Nguyen dynasty. It lies on Phan Dinh Phung street. Embedded in the outer wall of Bac Mon is a stone board carved with the date April, 25, 1882, and marks of two cannon balls fired by the French troops during their distance attack targeted the citadel from the Hong (Red) river. Two wooden doors of Bac Mon has already been restored with each measuring 12 sq. m in size. The doors weigh about 16 tones and slide on copper wheels weighed approximately 80kg. Above the citadel gate sits a shrine dedicated to Governor Nguyen Tri Phuong and his successor Hoang Dieu, who led Hanoians to defeat the French colonialists’ attacks twice.

Kinh Thien Palace

Kinh Thien Palace was the centre of Imperial Citadel of Thang Long in Le Dynasty and Hanoi Citadel in Nguyen Dynasty.

In 1010, King Ly Thai To promulgated Chieu Doi Do (the royal decree) to change the capital from Hoa Lu (Ninh Binh Province) to Dai La Citadel. After transferring the capital, the king had Citadel of Thang Long built, of which the main palace of Can Nguyen was in the centre location, atop Long Do Mountain (Dragon’s navel). According to phong thuy (feng shui) principles and architectural practice, Long Do Mountain is a place of immense ritual power.

In 1029, King Ly Thai Tong had Thien An Palace built on the foundation of Can Nguyen Palace. In 1428, King Le Thai To had Kinh Thien Palace built on the foundation of Thien An Palace and Kinh Thien Palace was considered as “one of the masterpieces of An Nam architecture”. In Nguyen Dynasty, when the capital was transferred to Hue, Kinh Thien Palace only acted as accommodation for Nguyen Kings during their trips to the North.

In 1886, the French colonists destroyed Kinh Thien Palace, except two sets of stone dragon steps and had a house built on the foundation of the palace including 2 floors with 7 rooms. The house was used as French headquarters of artillery and called Dragon House because there are sets of stone dragon steps at the front and the back of the house. When Hanoi was liberated in 1954, Dragon House became general headquarters of Vietnamese People’s Army. It is now a relic of revolution and history, opened frequently for visitors.

Two sets of stone dragon steps in Kinh Thien Palace are the typical heritage of architecture and arts for Hau Le Dynasty. The set of dragon steps at the front built in 1467 includes nine stone steps, each step is 20cm high, 40cm wide, 13.6m long. The steps are divided into three flights separated by two stone dragons. The centre flight was reserved for king, while two flanking ones were for mandarins. The two dragons are beautifully sculpted. Their heads – at the first step – are very large, their body are tapering as they follow the ascent of the steps until they form a sword shape at the top. Each dragon has five claws, symbolizing royal power. There are two banisters at two sides of the set of dragon steps made of monoliths with length of 5.3m, width of 36 – 39cm. Many vignettes are carved in these banisters.

The second set of dragon steps at the back constructed at the 17th – 18th centuries includes seven steps. Its scale is smaller than the set of steps at the front. There is only one flight created by two dragons at two sides of the set of dragon steps. Each dragon is 3.4m long with meticulous details including mouth holding a stone “pearl”, round nose, high forehead, branched horn, feet with five claws.

Four dragons in Kinh Thien Palace are also made of green stone and reflect partly monumental scale of former Kinh Thien Palace.

Dragon House

Dragon House was built on the site of Kinh Thien palace by the French colonialists in 1886. Kinh Thien palace was in the heart of Thang Long imperial citadel. It was located on Long Do (the naval of the dragon) mountain, which was regarded as the vital point of the ancient Thang Long citadel. In 1010 after settling in Thang Long capital city, King Ly Thai To ordered the building of a central chamber for the capital city on top of Long Do mountain and called it Can Nguyen palace, where the most important royal rituals were held.

In 1029, King Ly Thai Tong commanded his men to construct a central chamber called Thien An on the site of Can Nguyen palace. Thien An palace was then renamed Kinh Thien palace under the Le dynasty. When the capital city was moved to Hue in the central region under the Nguyen dynasty, Kinh Thien palace became the out-of-town palace for the kings and mandarins of the Nguyen when they visited the north. In 1886, the French colonialists demolished the out-of-town Kinh Thien palace and built the two-storey seven-room dragon house which acted as a command office of the French artillery. Since the Vietnamese army took the control of the capital city in 1954, the dragon house has become the headquarters of the Vietnam People’s Army.

Hau Lau Pavilion

Hau Lau (also called Tinh Bac pavilion) was located behind the out-of-town Kinh Thien palace and it currently lies on Hoang Dieu Street. Hau Lau stood north to safeguard peace for the Kinh Thien palace in accordance with the principle of Feng Shui so it acquired the name Tinh Bac Lau or Hau Lau (a pavilion in the back). It was also called the pavilion of princess given it provided accommodations for concubines accompanying King Nguyen during his business trips to the north. Hau Lau was destroyed in 1870 and it was then rebuilt into a military camp for the French troops. At present, Hau Lau acts as a showcase room exhibiting artefacts excavated from the surrounding area in October 1998, and photos portraying Hanoi through different historical stages.

Thang Long royal citadel archaeological site

Archaeological site at 18 Hoang Dieu is about 87 meters from Kinh Thien palace. It houses vestiges of palaces of the Ly, Tran and Le dynasties. The lowest layer of the site was found a part of the eastern area of Dai La citadel under Cao Bien’s reign of the Duong dynasty. The higher layers were reserved for palaces of the Ly and Tran dynasties and a part of the center of the eastern palace of the Ly dynasty. The top layer revealed a part of the centre of Hanoi Citadel in the 19th century.

History revealed that Thang Long imperial citadel changed a lot but its centre, especially Tu Cam Thanh, remained nearly unchanged. As architectural structures inside the imperial citadel have been rebuilt and upgraded several times, this explained for the findings of layers of architectural vestiges and artefacts at the archaeological site at 18 Hoang Dieu. Here, archaeologists dug out many important architectural vestiges and a great deal of porcelain and ceramic wares used in the imperial citadel through various stages of development. The findings paved the way for researchers to study ceramics made in Thang Long in general and ceramic wares used in Thang Long imperial citadel through different dynasties.

The flag tower of Thang Long imperial citadel

Flag Tower of Hanoi (also called Hanoi platform) is located at Dien Bien Phu street. The tower structure was built together with Hanoi Citadel under the Nguyen dynasty (began in early 1805 and completed in 1812). The flag tower is composed of three tiers and a pyramid-shaped tower with the exterior walls imbedded in brick. The tower has a spiral staircase leading to the octagonal top inside it where a flag is hoisted. After the city was liberated on October 10, 1954, the national flag of Vietnam is on top of the tower to welcome visitors.

For its three criteria of age-old historical and cultural values, being the center of regional political power for almost 13 centuries without interruption and diversified relic systems, the Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long – Hanoi was recognized as a world cultural heritage site by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee on 1st August, 2010. Before that, it was named among the top ten special national relic sites (first batch) in the decision 1272/QD-TTg which the Prime Minister signed on August 12, 2009.

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