1. Le-Trinh Capital Development Policy
Thang Long was established in the 11th century; first the palaces of the royal family area were built, surrounded by protective walls. The commoners’ residential area sprung up to serve the royal family. Therefore, the city’s blossoming in the late 16th and early 17th centuries had its origins in the royal family residential area.
In the 16th century, Thang Long was rebuilt, and expanded to twice its original size. First, in 1514-16, to meet his appetite for a life of luxury. King Le Tuong Due had the capital widened and many new buildings erected. He focused on the rebuilding of the east and northeast walls of the Royal citadel, and the reshaping of the To Lich River and West Lake into magnificent scenic spots. In 1587-88, when the Trinh family was agitating for power, the usurper King Mac Mau Hop, as a defensive precaution, had the outer part of Thang Long fortification rebuilt and its streets upgraded. Mac Mau Hop ordered his soldiers and the inhabitants of the surrounding regions to reinforce three more forts along the wall which gave the Dai La citadel wall a total length of dozens of dam. However, this system of fortification, as well as the citadel’s palaces, were soon destroyed by the invading Trinh military.
The Trinh family then threw its support with the Le family against the Mac reign and installed the Le on the throne as kings. The Trinh, however, retained the real authority as powerful lords.
The most significant and important phases of rebuilding and widening the capital were carried out by Trinh Lords during the 17th and early 18th centuries. In order to formally welcome King Le The Tong to the capital [reigned from 1573 to 1600], the Lord Trinh Tung had the Royal citadel refurbished, some new palaces made and a temporary residence built in the southwest of Thang Long north of Dua Bridge. (8-IV: 198) After the king’s arrival, Lord Trinh King Le had many old buildings renovated and new ones constructed, for example, Tay Kinh Palace repaired in 1595, the Royal Family Temple built in 1596, and three palaces and 16 pavilions constructed in 1630. Since it was a time of political instability, the Le Kings carefully avoided offending the Trinh Lord. The kings deliberately neglected the repair of their own deteriorating Royal Palace and citadel. Instead, they concentrated on enlarging and decorating the “Western capital” in Thanh Hoa Province, to which the Le royal family fled to escape political insurgencies in “the Eastern capital” (as Thang Long was called in contrast to the “Western Capital” in Thanh Hoa). King Le Kinh Tong fled there in 1600 and King Le Than Tong in 1623.
The largest and most important construction by the Trinh Lords was their own magnificent and huge palace complex. This complex was outside the royal area adjacent to the commoners’ residential area. Before the construction of that Palace, it is likely that the Trinh Lords, preparing to fight against the Mac, had ordered temporary headquarters and residences in other locations, such as in Thai Kieu hamlet (which is Kham Thien Market alley today, near O Cho Dua) and Thao Tan Wharf (near the Red River bank, at the site of the Municipal Theater now). However, at the end of 1592, the Trinh Lord moved to Phuc Lam ward in the south of Thang Long (8-IV: 195) and at the end of 1594 he settled there in the Thai Vuong Palace. (8-IV:206)
It seems likely that the Trinh Lord’s palace had been situated to the south of Sword Lake now (that is, between the Ta Vong and Huu Vong Lakes which were located there during that time). Later, the Trinh constructed many large palaces, 52 buildings in all, stretching to the bank of the Red River. Among the palaces were ornamental ponds, pavilions for admiring the moon and overlooking the water, communal houses, watch towers, an armory, gunpowder stocks, elephant stables, flag platforms and a parade ground. Next, Lord Trinh had the temples and lecture halls of the National University repaired (1662), Chieu Su temple at the Royal Sacrificial Altar (Nam Giao) rebuilt (1663), the Martial Arts Institute near the Red River built and inaugurated (1723). (14:105) (20-II:103) The Trinh Lord requisitioned valuable lumber for the construction of camps (1727) (20-II:147), for the Five Dragon Tower 300 thuoc high (a thuoc is 0.4 meter) on the shore of Sword Lake, and for the foundation of Thuong Tri Palace (1728). In 1749, as a precaution against peasants’ uprisings, Lord Trinh Doanh ordered the earthen city fortress wall surrounding the capital rebanked, punctuated by eight entrances with 16 gates (each entrance had a gate on the left and the right) each guarded by sentries.
The entire architectural complex of the lord’s palace was lavishly built with careful attention to detail. The quarters were said to have been “magnificent, luxurious, engraved and gilded with gold and painted with vermilion,” (128:66) with “bead curtains and pearl doors, fantastic flowers and exotic plants, precious and beautiful animals and birds.” (15:41) In short, “everything is amazing and unimaginable... incomparable.” (186:116-8)
Along with repair and construction of architectural complexes, the Le-Trinh feudal state maintained a large bureaucratic politico-military mechanism in Thang Long, creating a great demand for food and other necessities of life, and luxury and ceremonial objects.
This special regime whereby the Le King was a figurehead and the Trinh Lord was the real power consisted of two co-existing and parallel administrative structures. The Royal Court structure which existed alongside the administrative departments or cabinets of the Trinh Lord, made the state bureaucratic mechanism more and more cumbersome. In addition to the royal administration, a local administration was managed by a large number of mandarins, scholars, servants, messengers and imperial guards who lived in or nearby the lord’s palaces. In addition to these two main power structures, the military personnel of Thang Long at that time was about 50,000. (186:118) There was also a large elephant stable housing about 150-200 elephants, a gunpowder storehouse, a weapon and cannon stock, and a parade ground nearby. (150:52)
The Le Kings’ and the Trinh Lords’ policies of building and widening had two consequences. First, many artisans from surrounding regions, including bricklayers, stone masons, carvers, painters, engravers and embroiderers were mobilized to build and decorate those splendid architectural giants. These workers were required by their work to live in Thang Long for the long stretches of time. They usually remained after the completion of the project to work in guild workshops or independently outside the workshop system. Second, the sudden rise in the number of bureaucrats and soldiers in Thang Long consumed a considerable amount and imperial rituals related to the inauguration ceremonies of these new buildings created another demand. Food, consumer goods, and raw materials poured in from neighboring regions to meet that demand. The urban development policy of the feudal state of the Le-Trinh, stimulated a flow of materials and products into Thang Long from adjoining provinces, such as Son Nam, Kinh Bac, Hai Duong, Son Tay. In addition it attracted people, such as artisans and merchants. These were important reasons for the city’s vigorous development during the 17th and 18th centuries.
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