1. Dai La citadel and its city gates (Continue)
In comparison with the location of Dai La citadel wall designed by Mac Mau Hop, the Dai Do wall built by Trinh Doanh encompassed less area. Only three of its four sides were built on the old Dai La foundations. The western side probably was rebanked and its terminus was Yen Hoa or Yen Phu Gate, not Nhat Chieu or Nhat Tan, the former end point. The new citadel wall excluded large areas like West Lake, or the Thirteen Farm area in the west which previously had been contained in the inner capital. Today some scholars distinguish two distinct segments in the southern wall, they are: the Dai La outer wall and the inner La Thanh wall. But the locations of these have not been precisely determined.
As for the eastern side of Dai La citadel wall, historical documents are unclear, but based on the positions of city gates and the dike which surrounded the eastern part of the capital until the late 19th century, experts believe they can locate the Dai La citadel wall. These gate and dike positions were designated on maps of Hanoi under Emperor Minh Mang in the Nguyen dynasty, and were used in the first years of French domination. For instance, according to the Montalambert map printed in 1885 the dike, that is, the old Dai La citadel wall, probably started from Yen Phu in the north, passed Ben Nua, went along present-day Nguyen Huu Huan Street, Ly Thai To, Le Thanh Tong, Hang Chuoi Streets to the Dong Mac Gate.
Historical clues indicate that at times the Red River overflowed the Dai La city wall in the east at Ha Khau (Hang Buom) ward which spanned the To Lich Rivermouth. Hang Buom “was adjacent to the Nhi River and flooded every year” although it was protected by a stone embankment. (35:27) Today’s Hang Be Street used to be a wharf called Nam Pho or South wharf during the Nguyen dynasty. Tay Luong Gate (where the Municipal Theater is today) used to be a river pier. It was there that the Tay Son army arrived in its first advance north against the Trinh in 1786.
The Five Dragon Tower was built to the Trinh Lord’s exact specifications on the shore of Sword Lake. (The Flanoi International Post Office stands where the tower stood.) Every year, “in sixth lunar month, water from the Red River rose to the foot of the tower.” (19:IV:35) The Truong Tin Pagoda at #5 Flang Chuoi Street remained a pier, called “Truong Tin Pagoda pier” until 1783, when physician Le Huu Trac left Thang Long to return to his native village. At the end of the 19th century maps of Hanoi depicted the areas outside the dike as swamplands. In 1894 or 1895 the dike was demolished by French officials in order to fill in ponds and lakes to increase the area of real estate available for commercial building.
In short, in the latter half of the 18th century, the whole of Thang Long was encompassed by a closed fortification system and was connected with the outside by 16 city gates.
In a Journey to the Capital in 1782-83, Le Huu Trac described in detail a section of that fortification in Cho Dua Gate which he called Vu Quan Gate. “We could see a row of low earthen fortifications. Beside us was a small wall. On the wall was a path and outside was a thick bamboo fence, in the trenches were bamboo spikes. Entrance though the wall was blocked by three gates, each guarded on both sides by soldiers armed with well-sharpened swords.” (15:27)
Over time the 16 city gates in Dai La citadel were damaged and renamed many times. But old maps help us determine the locations of those gates. The spatial distribution of the gates was irregular. Eleven of the sixteen were located in the north and northeast. Some of the gates were piers of the Red River transport system and they connected to roads leading to and from Hai Duong Province to the south and Kinh Bac Province to the east. Some well-known city gates were: Thach Khoi, Dong Ha, Trung Thanh, My Loc, Tay Luong and Thanh Lang. Waterways were more important than roads in old Ke Cho. A road to Son Tay started from Thanh Bao Gate, that is, present-day Kim Ma Street. Three southern gates, that is Yen Tho (Cau Giay), and Kim Hoa (Kim Lien), Thinh Quang (Cho Dua) opened onto the road to Son Nam and to Thanh Nghe Provinces. The road through Kim Hoa Gate (i.e., Highway One today from Kim Lien to Giap Bat) was, in fact, impossible to travel since at that time this area was just a swamp. That is why until the 19th century, Kim Lien Gate was still called “Muddy Gate.” (177:263)
At night, all city gates were closed and guarded. They were open the next morning for pedestrian traffic. Le Huu Trac noted, “On the 10th day of the ninth lunar month, as the moon shone brightly, I set off very early. When I arrived at Ong Mac Gate, the gate was still locked. The guards only let me pass after I showed them my registration card. When I reached Thanh Tri wharf, the dawn had came.” (15:146)
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