1. Hanoi Citadel under the Nguyen Dynasty
As mentioned above, the Royal citadel of the Le dynasty deteriorated in Tay Son period (1788-1802). Tay Son forces had salvaged bricks from the foundation of the Bao Thien Tower to build a wall from Dong Hoa Gate to Dai Hung Gate. The Nguyen administration under Emperor Gia Long demolished the old citadel and built a smaller one in 1805 following French military architectural style of French military architect, Vauban. The design of the Hanoi citadel might have been influenced by several Frenchmen who advised Gia Long, such as Chaigneau, Vannier, Forsans, and Despiau. (131) In 1831 in Minh Mang’s reign, the citadel became the Hanoi Province fortress, an almost perfect square with a circumference of five kilometers. (Different documents give different measurements for the wall’s circumference.) The citadel wall was over four meters high and had five entrances: north, east, west, southeast, and southwest. The sides of the square today are marked by Phan Dinh Phung Street (north), Hung Vuong Avenue (west), Tran Phu Street (south) and Phung Hung Street (east). There was a moat about 15 meters wide around the citadel. The northern section of the moat was actually the To Lich River and on other sides of the citadel the moat was shallower. (160:36)
Outside each entrance was guard station made up of two walls. Each station had an area (3.8 meters wide) called Nhan Mon or “entrance before the main entrance.” To enter the citadel a visitor crossed two bridges, one across the moat at the guard station, and another across the moat at the main entrance. The lower part of the wall was built with laterite bricks and granite. After he had a new Royal Sacrificial Altar erected in the new capital at Hue, Gia Long ordered his engineers to salvage the bricks and stones from Hanoi’s Nam Giao altar to be used in the new Hanoi province fortress. (6-III:184, 177:266) The area inside the citadel was constructed and paved with high quality bricks from Bat Trang village which specializes in brick making. (177:266)
Inside the citadel, the rectangular shaped Kinh Thien Palace (120m x 350m) was aligned along a Northwest-Southeast axis based on geomantic considerations [fung shui] of the invisible vital spiritual forces of the earth. (131) The Kinh Thien Palace was decorated with a balustrade with stone dragons. Apart from the main entrance or the Doan Mon, there were also front, back and middle entrances. A flag tower, 60 thuoc (or 24 meters) high stood in front of the palace. The tower was built of brick on three levels in 1821. Each side of the bottom terrace is 42 thuoc long [one thuoc = 0.4 meters] and each side of the top terrace is 15 thuoc long. At the end of the 19th century, before the introduction of wireless telegraphic communication, the French built an observatory atop the tower which they used as a lantern signal station.
In the northeast corner of the citadel stood the “Tinh Bac” building, later transformed into a prison. There were elephant stables and an elephant bathing pond in the south. In the east were the homes of province chiefs and admirals; in the west offices of the provincial treasurer and warehouses for weapons and food. Barracks for the estimated 3,000 soldiers stationed inside were scattered over the citadel area. (167:56) The Kinh Thien Palace was seldom opened, except when the king went on an official journey to the north or received the emissary of the Manchu court. The Hanoi citadel during the Nguyen period was solidly protected, but it could not compare with the Royal citadel during the Le dynasty. It had lost the magnificent sparkle of its luxurious palaces and the animated excitement of busy servants and imperial guards.
Dr. Hocquard described the scene inside Hanoi Citadel in the Nguyen period as follows: “The immense land, whose circumference is the citadel’s wall and whose heart is the Kinh Thien Palace, almost lay in waste and uncultivated. The area is a big desert and it makes the citadel seem gloomy and abandoned.” (167:56)
Boissiere quoted Luro’s words written in 1878. Both described it similarly. “Inside the citadel, only buildings built with bricks remained, that is, the Kinh Thien Palace and high officials’ residences. There were immense land areas, some of which were uncultivated and became marshes, others were used for growing vegetables.” (136:211)
Labarthe wrote about Hanoi citadel in 1883 as follows: “It is a mess of large and small plants and vegetables. Among this mess are cottages for soldiers, brick pagodas and civil service officials’ residences. The citadel is a cold stone palace in a dictatorial administration. Under its shadow, joy and honesty of the people are squashed.” (136:240)
Outside the citadel near its entrance, the scene was also deserted. Boissiere remarked, “To the south of the citadel, the population is increasingly sparse. All houses have gardens. So that only 500 meters from the citadel, they feel as if they were completely in rural villages.” (136:240)
That scene was almost the same as poet Cao Ba Quat’s description written in 1832, “My house is in Dinh Ngang area -in the south of the citadel- this is a remote area with narrow hamlets and ramshackled houses. In front of my house there are soldiers’ stations and in the back is my neighbor’s garden. On going into the hamlet they can see luxuriant rice and maize fields, on looking over soldier stations they can see verdant jute plants.” (30:343-44)
We are told that formerly in the Le King-Trinh Lord period that the Dai Hung entrance in the area south of the citadel had been crowded with inhabitants, officials, and soldiers.
In 1894-97, Auguste Bazin, a civil engineer signed a contract with the French General-Governor Lanessan to demolish the Hanoi citadel, except for the northern entrance. (139) In his book "Ancient Remains and Beautiful Scenery of Hanoi, ” author, Doan Ke Thien said that Mrs. Tu Hong, a French Major’s wife, won the bid to demolish the citadel.
In brief, in the 19th century, the scale and size of the Hanoi citadel deteriorated; the number of structures decreased and political and service activities declined. As the number of consumers declined, the stimulus to trade weakened. Also, for the above-mentioned reasons, the power and direct domination of the royal feudal authority weakened over economic activities in commercial and handicraft sections.
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