Centers of POWER

All around Vietnam are former capitals that reveal the legacy of its feudal reigns.

By Le Diem on June 08,2019 11:16 AM

Centers of POWER

Vietnam has gone through many wars and feudal reigns in its long history. When a new dynasty was established, each emperor (or king) had reasons for selecting a certain place to build his kingdom. These capitals all had one thing in common: they were not only a solid fortress but also a center of politics, economics, and culture. They remain today as an invaluable legacy of Vietnam’s ancient ideology and culture. The Guide is pleased to take you back in time on a special heritage road to discover ancient capitals and national pride.

HUNG KING TEMPLE

PHOTO PHU THO PEOPLES COMMITTEE

PHOTO PHU THO PEOPLE'S COMMITTEE

BIRTHPLACE OF VIETNAMESE

The Hung Temple in Hy Cuong commune, Viet Tri city, northern Phu Tho province, about 85 km west of Hanoi, is known as the fatherland of Vietnamese people. This is where Van Lang, the legendary first nation state of the Vietnamese people, was located and ruled by King Hung, the title of a line of kings from 2879 to 258 BC.

After visiting many places in search of a site for the capital, the first King Hung was impressed by this area, where three rivers converge and large mountain ranges rise up on two sides, together with forests, hills, lakes, and fertile fields providing favorable conditions for wet rice cultivation as well as a good defensive base in case of enemy attack.

The Hung Kings Temple is on Nghia Linh Mountain and where the Hung Kings and courtiers held political meetings and spiritual ceremonies to God and the deities to pray for a good harvest and peace. The area is a complex consisting of several temples dedicated to the cult of the Hung Kings, the mythological founders of the Vietnamese people - Lac Long Quan and Au Co, and some princesses, as well as the tomb of the sixth Hung King. Nearby is the Hung Vuong Museum, where hundreds of objects on display reveal Vietnam’s history in the stone age and the Van Lang Kingdom.

Every year, people from all over the country come to attend the national Hung Temple Festival from the eighth to tenth day of the third lunar month, to commemorate and honor the Hung Kings. The festival features ritual ceremonies, traditional food, folk singing, and games, offering the chance for people from elsewhere to enjoy the culture of the country’s north.

HOA LU ANCIENT CAPITAL

PHOTO THAI A

PHOTO THAI A

A SOLID FORTRESS

In 968, after defeating more than 12 warlords, Dinh Bo Linh took the throne as the first emperor of Vietnam following the liberation of the country by Ngo Quyen in 938 after 1,000 years of Chinese domination. He titled himself Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang and chose his homeland, Hoa Lu district in northern Ninh Binh province, as the capital of the reunified country, which he named Dai Co Viet. Hoa Lu was the capital of Vietnam’s first two imperial dynasties, the Dinh Dynasty (968-980) and the Early Le Dynasty (980-1009).

Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang took advantage of the natural surroundings in building his uniquely solid capital. It was located in a flat valley between small limestone mountains. Earthen walls were built at the two ends of the valley, of which the longest was 500 meters and the shortest 65 meters, and approximately 10 meters high and 15 meters thick. The capital was protected by ten sections of wall and the Hoang Long River.

Today, however, the ancient citadel, including earthen walls, palaces, temples, and shrines, no longer exist. It still boasts dozens of monuments, however, including temples of Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang, Emperor Le Dai Hanh, their sons, Queen Duong Van Nga, the tombs of the two emperors, and Nhat Tru (One Pillar) Pagoda. Both emperors’ temples were built in the 17th century by local residents and reflect Chinese feudal architecture.

Annually, from the eighth to the tenth day of the third lunar month, Truong Yen, the province’s largest festival, is held to commemorate the great victories of the two emperors. It includes a host of folk activities associated with the relics of the two emperors, such as battle reenactments, wrestling, sword dances, dragon dances, and tug-of-war, among others. It recreates olden times, helping young people gain some understanding of the traditions of their ancestors.

THANG LONG IMPERIAL CITADEL

PHOTO THAI A

PHOTO THAI A

A THOUSAND-YEAR-OLD CAPITAL

The Thang Long Imperial Citadel is in Ba Dinh district, Hanoi. It was built in the 11th century by Emperor Ly Thai To (974-1028), marking the reign of the Ly Dynasty (1010-1225) and the independence of the Dai Viet. The royal citadel was the center of political power for feudal dynasties until 1810, when the Nguyen Dynasty chose to move the capital to Hue.

The royal palaces and most of the structures in the citadel were in varying stages of disrepair by the late 19th century when the French arrived. The few remaining structures within the royal compound are Doan Mon Gate - the southern entrance to the royal palace, the Flag Tower, the foundation and steps of Kinh Thien Palace, and Queen’s Palace.

An archaeological dig in the area revealed the foundations of many palaces and columns, wells, phoenix and dragon statues, and metal and ceramic objects of different periods from China, Japan, and these countries in Asia, which have important historical, architectural, and artistic value and reflect the cultural exchange between Vietnam and other countries over its long history.

From 1954 to 1975, the Vietnam People’s Army had its headquarters within the citadel, which had connecting underground tunnels allowing for emergency evacuation in case of attack.

In 2010, on Hanoi’s 1,000th birthday, the Thang Long Imperial Citadel was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for its significant cultural values, making it one of the most popular tourist attractions in the capital.

HO CITADEL

PHOTO LE BICH

PHOTO LE BICH

ONE AND ONLY STONE CITADEL

In Vinh Loc district, northern Thanh Hoa province, Ho Citadel was Vietnam’s capital under the Ho Dynasty (1400-1407). Some parts of the citadel remain solid after many centuries thanks to its stone structure.

As with the pyramids of Egypt, modern-day architects and researchers question how people in the early 15th century could have transported massive blocks of stone and slotted them together as walls without any mortar and in just three months.

Stretching almost a kilometer on each side, the walls are remarkably intact and the four vaulted gateways are as sturdy as ever, though palaces and other works inside have been ravaged by time and war. It may remind some visitors of the famous stone walls of the medieval papal palace in the old city of Avignon in France.

Recognized as a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2011, Ho Citadel is a typical example of stone architectural work that symbolized royal power and is a sizeable and majestic military fortress. Special and unique Vietnamese construction techniques were creatively and skillfully combined with technical traditions and construction art from Vietnam, East Asia, and Southeast Asia.

HUE ANCIENT CAPITAL

PHOTO THAI A

PHOTO THAI A

INTACT RELIC AND RICH CULTURAL SITE

In central Thua Thien Hue province, Hue was the capital of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945) and is renowned for its poetic beauty, with the flow of the Huong (Perfume) River and the shield of Ngu Binh Mountain (Royal Screen).

It is the country’s only former capital with most buildings still intact, creating the massive Complex of Hue Monuments, a valuable treasure of humankind that was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.

Among the hundreds of monuments, Hue Citadel is a must-see destination, featuring hundreds of buildings such as Ngo Mon (Meridian Gate), the Forbidden Purple City, the Imperial City, palaces once the residence of the royal family, temples worshipping them, and towers.

Another outstanding feature of the complex is the emperor tombs, such as those of Gia Long, Minh Mang, Tu Duc, and Khai Dinh. They are often regarded as masterpieces of ancient Vietnamese architecture with an Oriental outlook.

Other famous sites include Nam Giao Altar, for the worship of God and the Mother Earth, the Hue Temple of Literature (where regrettably only one stele with the names of doctorates still remains), Ho Quyen (Tiger Arena), where the Nguyen emperors organized battles between elephants and tigers, and Thien Mu and Truc Lam pagodas, two of many pagodas in Hue, which was once the capital of Buddhism in the country.

HOANG DE CITADEL

PHOTO BINH DINH PEOPLES COMMITTEE

PHOTO BINH DINH PEOPLE'S COMMITTEE

UNIQUE CHAM AND VIETNAMESE CAPITAL

Hoang De (Emperor) Citadel is in Nhon Hau commune, An Nhon district, in south-central Binh Dinh province.

Built at the end of the 10th century under the reign of Emperor Yangpuku Vijaya, it was known at that time as Do Ban Citadel, the last capital of the Champa Kingdom and where Cham Kings lived for five centuries until the 15th century, when the kingdom ended. In the late 18th century, Nguyen Nhac, one of three national heroes who led a successful resistance against northern invaders, proclaimed himself Emperor of the Center of the Tay Son Dynasty (1778-1802) and chose Do Ban Citadel as his capital, renaming it Hoang De.

Although the citadel was largely destroyed by the Nguyen Dynasty after the Tay Son Dynasty collapsed, it retains some vestiges of ancient Cham culture, such as Cham towers, square wells, and statues of small lions and elephants. It also contains other objects from the Tay Son Dynasty, such as gates, pagodas, tombs, and towers.

Hoang De Citadel is a second-to-none heritage of Vietnam, and the only capital of both the Champa Kingdom and of Vietnam.

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