2. The Official Quarter: Royal Citadel and Trinh Lord’s Palace (Continue)
In addition, historical documents from the imperial court and notes about Thang Long made by Western writers also mentioned the destruction of the capital. Samuel Baron, living in Ke Cho in 1683 noted that “These walls are said to be three leagues in circumference, six or seven feet high, and nearly as thick. The width of the top forms a public promenade. The triple walls of the old city and of the ancient palace, its courts paved with marble, the ruins of its gates and lodges, give some idea of what it was in its splendor, and makes one regret the destruction of one of the finest and most extensive edifices of Asia.” (128:95) Could it be that that magnificent citadel which was destroyed overlapped that of the Le-Mac dynasties which was burned down by Lord Trinh Tung’s holocaust in 1592?
In late 19th century, when Dr. Hocquard traveled on the La Thanh Dike (Cau Giay - Giang Vo). He commented, “People enter Hanoi through a tumbled-down gate; walls on both sides were partly ruined. Those are relics of Hanoi’s outer citadel. The remaining walls were almost 2.5 meters thick. They were made of brick and a special kind of very solid mortar. The grand palace of the kings in the north praised by travelers in the previous time (Baron) probably lay in this area.” (167:194-95)
On a Hanoi map drawn in 1831 the Giang Vo area was named Mallet-handle Gate. Maybe this was the site of the destroyed gate which Hocquard mentioned above whose wall edges were shaped like a mallet handle. We wonder whether that was the Bao Khanh Gate to the southwest of the Royal citadel which was destroyed in late 16th century?
In addition to the Bao Khanh Gate under the Le dynasty, Thang Long’s citadel communicated with the outside by the Dai Hung Gate and Dong Mon (Dong Hoa) Gate. The Dong Hoa Gate led directly to the commercial area of the capital, probably via Hang Duong Street today where Dong Mon Tu Pagoda -Eastern Gate Pagoda- still remains. It was sometimes used ceremonially for posting “the golden boards” containing newly graduated doctorates’ names. Dai Hung Gate at Cua Nam today was the main gate through which the king and mandarins traveled. It led to the south area of the capital. On all these gates there were engraved stelae. According to Pham Dinh Ho, the Dong Hoa Gate had been in use since the Ly dynasty and the Dai Hung Gate since the beginning of the Le. (35:39). There was a communal house near the Dai Hung Gate where state notices and decrees were hung. Adjacent to the south wall of the Royal citadel was the National College where children of aristocrats and mandarins studied.
During the first reigns of the Early Le dynasty, the former Royal citadel contained besides the Forbidden City, an Western Palace which was set aside for the Prince, and a building where the king worshipped his ancestors. Both palaces had large ornamental ponds. The western part of the Royal citadel was much larger and was dotted with many ponds, mountains, pavilions, temples and shrines. This was the recreation and leisure area of the king with the Thuong Lam Garden, the Khan Son Temple, Linh Lang Pond and Temple, and the Giang Vo Shrine.
The kings lived and held private audiences in the Forbidden City. It was probably situated in the same place of Thang Long-Hanoi as it was during the Nguyen dynasty, when Hanoi was no longer the capital. The wall of the Forbidden City had a main gate called Doan Mon which separated the Royal Citadel into East and West. In the very center of the Forbidden City was the Kinh Thien Temple. This temple was started in 1428 under the reign of King Le Thai To and was completed in 1465. In King Le Thanh Tong’s reign, it was decorated with two stone balustrades engraved with dragons. Here the king met and discussed critical issues with his mandarins. In front of the Kinh Thien Temple at the Chi Kinh Temple mandarins attended imperial audiences. The Kinh Thien Temple lay to the right of Chi Kinh Temple and Van Tho Temple at the back and to the left of it.
The Italian missionary, G.F.Marini, in Ke Cho in 1666, described the Royal citadel under the combined Le King- Trinh Lord rule as follows: “If we start from Ke Cho to enter the king’s palace, we will see not only one single palace but also an entire beautiful and large city. The number of guards, mandarins, officers, servants, court runners and gardens, elephants, horses, weapons and pieces of military equipment is amazing and beyond imagination. Although the king’s palace was only made of wood, we can see golden ornaments and embroidered items, mats finely-woven in a variety of colors, beautiful carpets, etc. Things here have no comparison. You can also see stone arches and surprisingly thick walls in the king’s palace. The palace was constructed on many huge firm pillars and is a multi-story building with a staircase. Its rafters are more beautiful than any other architectural feat. The rooms are spacious, corridors are roofed and the yards are vast.” (186:116-118)
The British merchant, William Dampier, wrote about Thang Long’s Royal citadel in 1688. “The wall that is most remarkable. It is said to be three leagues in circumference. The height of this wall is about 15 or 16 feet and almost as many broad or thick. It is faced on both sides with brick. There are several small gates to go in and out at but the main gate (Dai Hung) face to the city. This they say is never opened, but when the Bona or the Emperor goes in or out. There are two smaller gates adjoining to it, on each side, which are opened on all occasions, for any concerned there to pass in and out; but strangers are not permitted this at liberty. Yet they may ascend to the top of the wall and walk round it, there being stairs at the gate to go up by and in some places the wall is fallen down. Within this wall there are large fishponds where also there are pleasure-boats for the Emperor’s diversion.” (150:38)
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