Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long - Hanoi

Since 2010 • Cultural

The Thang Long Imperial Citadel was built in the 11th century by the Ly Viet Dynasty, marking the independence of the Dai Viet. It was constructed on the remains of a Chinese fortress dating from the 7th century, on drained land reclaimed from the Red River Delta in Hanoi. It was the centre of regional political power for almost 13 centuries without interruption. The Imperial Citadel buildings and the remains in the 18 Hoang Dieu Archaeological Site reflect a unique South-East Asian culture specific to the lower Red River Valley, at the crossroads between influences coming from China in the north and the ancient Kingdom of Champa in the south.

Historical context

The Viet or Kinh, the majority ethnic group in contemporary Vietnam, see themselves as a people that go back to the creation of the world, for which they have their own cosmogony. According to legend the foundation of the Empire dates back to the 3rd millennium BCE, when some fifteen kings and queens met to elect the first Emperor of the Nam Viet (the lands of the southern Viet).

In the 6th century BCE an independent kingdom was established, known as Van Lang, which straddled modern Guandong and northern Vietnam. The earliest written evidence indicating permanent human settlement in the Red River Delta dates from 211 BCE. A rural society with extensive hydraulic knowledge developed here, at the crossroads of cultural influences from the Chinese area to the north and civilizations in South-East and southern Asia.

Under the pressure of the Han Dynasty, the Viet Kingdom was reduced to the lower Red River Valley, which was finally conquered in 111 BCE. It then became one of the kingdoms of the southern marches of the Chinese Empire, and remained under its political and cultural control for almost one thousand years. The last phase of this long period of Vietnamese history is referred to as the Dai La Period. It was at this time that the first Chinese citadel was erected on the site of Hanoi, as indicated by the presence of wells and remains from the 7th-10th centuries CE.

Chinese domination of the Delta and the lower Red River Valley ended in the 10th century with the return of an autonomous dynasty (Dinh-Le) and the establishment of the independent Kingdom of Dai Viet in the lower Red River Valley. The development of a new citadel, Thang Long, on the site where the former had stood, confirmed this independence in the early 11th century (Ly Dynasty). The Citadel surrounded the enlarged Forbidden City built in brick in 1029 and was itself surrounded by a defensive wall. As the seat of power and the royal residence, a Chinese layout was adopted for the Citadel. It does, however, also illustrate the geomantic principles specific to Viet history and culture.

At the same time as the Dai Viet Kingdom asserted itself at the end of the 1st millennium CE, the Kingdom of Champa, a people with cultural influences from the Indian Ocean, developed in the centre and south of modern Vietnam. It was in contact with the powerful and rapidly expanding Khmer Empire, and it was an essential link between the spread in South-East Asia of cultures from India and southern Asia, Buddhism in particular.

The long history of this region of the lower Red River, and especially the Citadel that forms the nominated property, is characterized by the continuous interaction between Viet peoples and the various Chinese dynasties and their Confucian and Taoist traditions, and also with the Kingdom of Champa to the south, marked byBuddhist traditions. It was an essentially agrarian civilization, with considerable expertise in drainage, dykes, and agricultural hydraulics.

Buddhist culture spread during the Ly (1010-1225) and Tran (1225-1400) Dynasties and played an essential role in the development of institutions and social and religious life. The Dai Viet Kingdom extended its influence and expanded. A change to the Le Dynasty (1428-1789) led to a return to Confucian values and to more rapid development, especially in the 15th century. Hanoi was at this time one of the most important South- East Asian ports. The erection of Kinh Thien Palace, in the heart of the Forbidden City, marked the apogee of the architecture and urban planning of the Viet culture itself. The Citadel reached its maximum size in the 16th- 17th centuries, whilst a district of artisans and traders serving the rulers also developed. Thang Long Citadel, and especially the Forbidden City, played an essentially political and administrative role, along with the expression of royal etiquette. It was also the period of conquest of the Kingdom of Champa to the south, giving the dynasty a truly Imperial dimension.

However, a political change gradually took place, starting in the mid-17th century. The Emperor played an increasingly symbolic role, with the real power being exercised by two powerful families, the Trinh in the north and the Nguyen in the south. The latter prevailed at the beginning of the 18th century and established a new dynasty, with its new capital in the more centrally located Hué.

Thang Long still remained the northern Citadel, the Emperor's residence when travelling to the region. Its fortification system was rebuilt (1805), based on the European model of Vauban.

French colonial troops were present in modern southern Vietnam from the 1860s onwards. They undertook the conquest of the north in the 1880s. Thang Long once again became the centre of power. It was in particular the headquarters of the colonial power for the vast regional ensemble of French Indochina (modern Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia). Many palaces were rebuilt in a European style, generally Neoclassical, such as Kinh Thien Palace, the former heart of the Forbidden City (1886). The Governor's Palace (in the buffer zone) was built and the fortifications were razed so as to permit a European type of urban development, including wide boulevards around and within the ancient Citadel (end of the 19th century).

After the First War of Independence (1954) and the division of Vietnam into two entities, the Viet Min power settled in Hanoi and the ancient Forbidden City became the military headquarters for North Vietnam. During the Second War, against South Vietnam and the United States, the D67 underground command bunker was installed within the area of Kinh Thien Palace (1967).

The Ministry of Defence gradually abandoned its use of the property between 1994 and 2004, handing it over for cultural and historic uses. The site at 18 Hoang Dieu Street, initially chosen for the construction of the National Assembly, was found to be of exceptional archaeological value (2002). The project was maintained, but on a smaller portion of the initial site.

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