In the 17th and 18th centuries, Thang Long belonged to what was called Phung Thien Prefecture, directly controlled by the central government. The prefecture was divided into Tho Xuong district and Quang Due district (i.e., the inner city of Hanoi, including some communes of Tu Liem district today). The government of Phung Thien Prefecture consisted of a governor and a deputy governor as security officers. The formation of such an administrative system had two aspects: although Thang Long fell within the State’s general administrative system of prefectures, districts, hamlets and wards, it was also regarded as a special administrative entity with its own features.
Thang Long was shaped by an earthen wall - the Dai La - encompassing the whole capital, a political-bureaucratic power center, which included the Royal citadel of the Le King and the numerous palaces of the Trinh Lord, and an economic-residential area for everyone else. At the center of the residential area were densely populated handicraft and commercial wards, situated between the royal family area and the Red River bank. This situation was far from an ideal urban plan, and in reality, the borders between those areas remained indistinct.
1. Dai La citadel and its city gates
Dai La, the old earthen wall encompassing the capital of Thang Long had been repaired and rebuilt many times during the Chinese domination and the Ly-Tran dynasties. In 1477, King Le Thanh Tong ordered the rebuilding of the wall. (8- III:257) In 1587, as defense against attacks by the Trinh’s forces, the usurper of the throne, Mac Mau Hop, had it reinforced. He “ordered his men and the people living in districts of four provinces to reinforce the outer part of Dai La city wall and to build three fortifications starting from Nhat Chieu ward (i.e., Nhat Tan today) across West Lake, past Cau Dua, to Cau Giay bridge to Thanh Tri district, bordering the Nhi River in the northwest. It was a few truong higher than the Royal citadel wall, 25 truong wide with three moats lined by bamboo trees, dozens of dam in length.” (8-IV:179) Based on the above, it can be inferred that the Dai La city wall designed by Mac Mau Hop was very large. This city wall encompassed all of West Lake and the present-day villages of Ngoc Ha, Lieu Giai, and Giang Vo. (Today that wall is marked by the dike-road running from Nhat Tan, across Buoi village to Cau Giay Gate, turning into La Thanh Road, Cho Dua Gate, Kim Lien, Dai Co Viet Road. From there it passes Tran Khat Chan Street to Dong Mac Gate and then to Yen Lang Street, and along the Red River dike.)
In 1592, this wall was completely destroyed by Trinh Tung on his march on Thang Long. After that for 150 years until 1749 Thang Long had no outer wall. Foreign visitors coming to Thang Long-Ke Cho in the 17th and 18th centuries, such as Baldinotti (126:75), Marini (186:95), Phan Dinh Khue (Chinese) (175:78), and Richard (208-1:73) all agreed on this. The destruction of the wall made for a remarkable difference between Ke Cho and large cities of other countries at that time, especially those in Western Europe, all of which were encompassed by great city walls.
In 1749 during a peasant uprising that threatened the capital, Lord Doanh ordered citizens in surrounding districts to construct a new wall, the Dai Do citadel. “When it was finished, he opened eight entrances, each entrance had two gates -a right and a left one- (making a total of 16 city gates) guarded by soldiers in peaceful times as well as in times of emergency.” (34) This system of citadel and fortifications existed until the Nguyen dynasty in the 19th century. It was written in A Book on Unified Dai Nam that, “Bamboo hedges were grown around the capital, in Tho Xuong district and in Vinh Thuan districts there were 12 city gates built in 1749. This rebuilt city wall was not based on the old Dai La wall designed originally by the 9th century Chinese governor, Cao Bien.” (6-III:183) That new citadel wall system was carefully noted during Emperor Minh Mang’s reign on the 1831 map of Hanoi drawn by Le Due Loc and Nguyen Cong Tien.
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