Historical stages of Thang Long- Hanoi


In the later half of the 3rd century BC, as narrated by legend, Thuc Phan, an Au-Viet leader from the mountainous area of present North Vietnam overthrew the Hung Kings’ reign, set up the Au-Lac Kingdom and moved the capital to Co Loa – a masterstroke of military defense technique at that time. The ancient Hanoi, with Co Loa capital, started to enter the Vietnamese history as a national socio-political centre.

In 197 BC, Au Lac Kingdom was annexed by the Han aggressors, which ushered in an over 1000-year Chinese domination. By the middle of the 5th century, in the center of ancient Hanoi, the Chinese rulers set up a new district called Tong Binh, which later became a province, including two districts Nghia Hoai and Tuy Ninh in the south of the Red  River (now Tu Liem and Hoai Duc districts) with a metropolis (the domination centre) in the present inner Hanoi. By the year 679, the Tang dynasty (replacing the Sui dynasty) changed the country’s name into An Nam (Pacified South), with Tong Binh as its capital.

In order to defeat the people’s uprisings, in the later half of the 8th century, Truong Ba Nghi, a Tang dynasty viceroy, built La Thanh (La citadel, from Thu Le to Quan Ngua in present-day Ba Dinh precinct). In the earlier half of the 9th century, it was further built up and called Kim Thanh (Kim Citadel). In 866, Cao Bien, the Chinese Governor, consolidated and named it Dai La citadel (running from Quan Ngua to Bach Thao), the then largest citadel ancient Hanoi.


Immediately after ascending the throne, in 1010, King Ly Thai To decided to relocate the capital from Hoa Lu (Ninh Binh) to Dai La citadel (belonging to present-day Hanoi) – a land with a terrain of “rolling dragon and sitting tiger” (as stated in the Royal Edict on the Transfer of the Capital). According to the Complete Annals of the History of the Great Viet State, “while boats temporarily anchored by the citadel (Dai La), a golden dragon appeared on the royal boat, consequently it was renamed Thang Long citadel”.

Thang Long (Flying Dragon) capital city was built into two separate areas: the Royal Enclosure with royal palaces and the Court Hall, and the civil area where inhabitants lived and were grouped into craft guilds. The capital was surrounded by an earth rampart expanded from the dykes of three rivers: the Red River to the east, the To River to the north and the west, and the Kim Nguu River to the south. It was the biggest rampart work of the feudal dynasties in Vietnam.

The traces of Thang Long citadel from this time were left in many marvelous architectural works: the Dong Co Temple (built in 1028), the Dien Huu-One-Pillar Pagoda (1049), the Bao Thien stupa (1057), etc. In the heyday of the Ly dynasty, Thang Long capital actually became the largest and most typical political, economic and cultural centre of the country. The era of the Dai Viet civilisation was ushered from then on.


Succeeding the Ly dynasty, the Tran ended the chaos and restored the socio-political order. Thang Long was still the national capital. As it was continuously destroyed by warfare between the imperial political factions at the end of the Ly dynasty, especially in the three Mongol-Yuan invasions (in 1258, 1285 and 1288), the Tran dynasty almost took advantage of the previous constructions and further restored and extended them: in 1230, Dai La citadel and some palaces were repaired; in 1243, the Forbidden City (which was later called Phung Thanh) was rebuilt; and in 1253, Quoc Tu Giam was restored, etc.

Having been re-organised into 61 districts with higher population density and concentrated on the civilian settlement, Thang Long was more obviously a city with a rapid development of streets, markets and handicraft villages. Many foreign traders came here to earn a living, including the Chinese, Uigurian and Javanese … The Dai Viet civilisation continued developing.


On April 29th, 1428, Le Loi ascended the throne and restored the country’s name Dai Viet, located the capital in Dong Do and renamed it Dong Kinh in 1430 (then Trung Do in 1466).

Under the Le dynasty, the old Thang Long citadel was extended to the east. In the Forbidden City with a rectangular brick citadel and the main entrance Doan Mon, many palaces were rebuilt and rearranged, the most solemn of all was the Kinh Thien Palace and in 1467, two stone balustrades were built on its veranda. Apart from the imperial citadel, many other new architectural works have appeared. The civilian quarters continued developing and being reorganised into two districts of Quang Duc and Vinh Xuong, each with 18 guilds. Dong Kinh at that time had busy business streets and famous handicraft villages, such as Nghi Tam and Thuy Chuong (textile), Yen Thai (paper making) and Hang Dao (cloth dying).

Under King Le Thanh Tong’s reign (1460-1497), the country reached the peak of an independent feudal state. However, the contradictions in the internal Le dynasty, since early 16 century, led to the deposition of King Le by Mac Dang Dung’s feudal militaristic group (1527). In 1588, the Mac Dynasty mobilise people to build a three-clay layer rampart to strengthen the capital defence system. However, four years later, under the guise of restoring the Le dynasty, the Trinh family seized the imperial citadel. The capital was officially re-called Thang Long. The puppet reign of King Le was located inside the old Royal Enclosure. The Palace of the Trinh Lords, the true centre of power over the country, was built outside, including many magnificent palaces, running from the west bank of the Sword Restored Lake to the Red River dyke. In spite of political upheavals, Thang Long (used to be called Kinh Ky or Ke Cho at that time) remained the busiest and most prosperous city - commercial port in the country and the largest of its type in Asia. Apart from the Chinese emporiums, there were also those of British, Dutch and German businessmen. The residential area became more crowded and two-storey houses appeared. A lot of art, architectural, especially religious works, were built.

By the end of 1788, Thang Long capital and the Dai Viet State had to face the Qing aggression. From Phu Xuan (Hue), King Quang Trung led the Tay Son army to the North and liberated Thang Long. The new capital was located in Phu Xuan and Thanh Long became Bac Thanh (the Northern Metropolis). However, the Royal Citadel and some other artistic works were well maintained and repaired.


Taking advantage of King Quang Trung’s death (1792), the Nguyen Anh’s feudal group from the South invaded Phu Xuan (1801) and Thang Long (1802). The Nguyen dynasty capital was still in Phu Xuan and Thang Long remained Bac Thanh. The Royal Citadel was destroyed and replaced by a new square citadel after the French Vauban type. In 1831, King Minh Mang set up Hanoi province with greater district Hoai Duc as its administrative seat (former Thang Long citadel); therefore, Thang Long was also called Hanoi. Quoc Tu Giam, the highest national educational institution, was moved to Hue.

Though Hanoi was no longer the national political centre, it remained the greatest economic and cultural centre of the whole country then. De La Liraye, a French scholar, wrote in 1877: “No longer being the capital though, Ke Cho (Hanoi) was still the leading city in the kingdom in terms of art, industry, trade, wealth, population density, elegance and knowledge… It is a site where famous scholars, skilled workers and great traders gathered from all parts of the country. It is there where essential goods and luxurious fine art items were produced. In brief, it is the heart of the nation...”

In late 19th century, because of the French colonialists’ invasion, the people all over the country rose up to wage a resistance war. In Hanoi, under the leadership of Governor Nguyen Tri Phuong and his successor Hoang Dieu, the people twice defeated the French attacks. However, the Nguyen Dynasty was so faint-hearted that it signed a “Peace Treaty” (Harmand Treaty, 1883), officially recognising the French domination. Hanoi became a “protectorate” of Bac Ky under the ruling authority of a French Resident Superior. Five years later (in July 1888), the French President passed a decree to set up Hanoi City, including the whole Hanoi province, which was headed by a French mayor.

The French large-scale colonial exploitation policy changed much of Hanoi’s face since early 20th century. The infrastructure facilities were completed, first and foremost the systems of roads, railways, bridges and culverts, including the Doumer bridge over the Red River. The old Hanoi Citadel was again demolished to build “military areas” and office buildings. Kinh Thien palace was also destroyed and replaced by a two-storey dragon house for the French artillery headquarters (1886). Together with the formation of the “Western Quarter” (including Dinh Tien Hoang, Ngo Quyen, Ly Thai To, Trang Tien, Hai Ba Trung, Tran Hung Dao, Ly Thuong Kiet Street… nowadays), some other architectural works with European style were constructed, such as the Governor-General Palace, the Resident Superior Palace, the National Bank, Great Opera House, Big Church, Post Office, Ecole Francaise d’Extreme-Orient, Hanoi Railway Station, etc.

Although the French colonialists carried out a brutal policy of repression and terrorism, the revolutionary movements of the Hanoi people, especially after the Vietnam Communist Party came into being (February 1930), were at times smouldering or seething, but never died out… On August 19th, 1945, in response to the Uprising Directive of the Hanoi Military-Revolutionary Committee,  200,000 Hanoians took to the streets to seize power successfully.


On September 2, 1945, in Ba Dinh Square (Hanoi), President Ho Chi Minh read the Declaration of Independence, proclaiming to the world the birth of the Republic Democratic of Vietnam. Hanoi was honoured to be chosen as the capital city in the new era.

The people of the capital city had started to build a free and democratic life for over one year when they had to confront a new invasion by the French colonialists. On December 19, 1946 night, in response to President Ho Chi Minh’s appeal, the Hanoi people opened fire to wage a national resistance war. After eight years of protracted fighting, on October 10, 1954, Hanoi was splendid with flags and flowers to welcome the victorious troops to return to liberate the capital.

Since the return of peace, Hanoi expediently entered a period of economic rehabilitation and construction. After the first five-year plan (1960-1965), the capital city became an important political, cultural, and economic hub of the whole country.

In mid-1966, the US imperialists escalated the war to the capital. After the US was forced to declare to stop bombing from the 20th parallel northward in March 1968 and the Vietnamese people were expediently overcoming the consequences of the destructive war, Hanoi again became a target of the US second air raid in April 1972. At the end of the same year, within only 12 days and nights (from December 18-29, 1972), 40,000 tonnes of bombs (the destructive capacity of which were equal to two atomic bombs released by the US on Japan’s Hirosima city in 1945) were dropped on the Hanoi area. The people and soldiers of Hanoi, manifesting the spirit of the “Capital City of Human Dignity”, created a “Dien Bien Phu in the Air”, shooting down 23 B52 flying fortresses, two F111s and five other craft. This victory contributed to forcing the US to sign the Paris Agreement in January 1973 and withdraw all their troops home. One year and nine months after, on September 30, 1974, the Supreme Commandership of the anti-US resistance war approved a strategic plan for liberating the southern region. With the wholehearted and all-round support from the army and people in the northern region including Hanoi, the historic Ho Chi Minh campaign won complete victory on April 30, 1975.

The southern region was completely liberated and the whole country was reunified. In April 1976, Hanoi was approved by the National Assembly of the whole country as the capital city of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Since the end of 1986, the capital entered a new stage full of challenges and opportunities as it shifted from a State-subsidised to a market-oriented economy. As a result, in the last decade of the 20th century, Hanoi’s economy overcame the recession and recorded a continual growth in all sectors. In 1999, Hanoi was awarded the title “The City of Peace” by the UNESCO and chosen as a venue for launching the “International Peace Year – 2000”.

Overcoming difficulties and taking advantage of new international opportunities (Vietnam becoming the 150th member of the World Trade Organisation and a non-permanent member of the United Nations’ Security Council in 2007). Hanoi is striving to bring into full play its internal strength to continue realising the all-round renewal policy along the orientation of industrialisation and modernisation of the capital city./.