2. Residential area of Hanoi in the 19th century (Continue)
However, the most popular 19th century house style can be seen today on such streets as Hang Buom, Hang Bac, Hang Be, and Ma May. Hocquard described that style, “This house style is very narrow but very long. If they only see the front of a house, they won’t think that it can hide big rooms and courtyards in between. In general, the roofs slope towards and protrude onto the street. The roof leans against the outside walls of the house, which extend at least two meters higher than the roof and which end with ‘steps.’ No one can explain for me this strange arrangement. I suppose it is used to protect the roof in storms, which often occur in the north in monsoon season.” (167:30)
Bourde remarked similarly, “Narrow roofs are very close to each other, extending beyond these roofs are white walls in a stepped pattern and flower decoration.” (138:169) Houses were so crowded and close to each other, therefore as in centuries before, Hanoi also had many fires in the 19th century. In 1828 Hanoi experienced a great fire in which thousands of houses were destroyed, and many people were injured or died. (7-IX:41) In 1837 there was a fire outside the city, burning more than 1,400 houses and injuring many people. Outside the citadel, the inhabitants were crowded, the streets were narrow, the houses were close to each other, thus creating conditions for disastrous fires.” (7-XIX:123)
In Bach Ma Temple there exists today a big drum from previous centuries and people believe that that drum was beaten to call for help in time of fire. (183:22) Legend says that the spirit of Bach Ma Temple was most sacred. When fires destroyed houses nearby, Bach Ma Temple remained miraculously untouched. (14:432) (33:86) It is written on a stone stele in Bach Ma Temple: “The sound of the drumbeat of this temple can extinguish fires, so people never forget to beat the drum when there is a fire nearby.” (157:83) At the temple’s gate there is a bell cast in 1832 one meter high with a circumference of 70 centimeters. It was rung as a fire alarm. (54:123) Because there were many fires in the 19th century, people built another “fire extinguishing” temple called “Fire Spirit” Temple in Yen Noi hamlet at modern-day #30 Hang Dieu Street where people worshipped a Fire-Extinguishing Spirit. (6-III:201) That temple also contained a rather large bell that was rung when there was a fire nearby.
In short, in the 19th century the eastern commercial area of Hanoi remained more bustling than in former centuries. Yet, road building and maintenance and building repairs were neglected; the appearance of the streets was not improved much except on some wealthy streets of Chinese merchants.
The area around Sword Lake which had been a politico- bureaucratic center became a residential area. In the 17th and 18th centuries this area housed magnificent palaces and residences of the Le Kings and the Trinh Lords, but its face changed with time. Structures had been destroyed in wars and battles; new religious buildings were built, such as, the Ngoc Son Temple, built in 1841-42 and renovated in 1865 on the old foundation of the Khanh Thuy Palace. In 1842, the Bao An Pagoda was built on the old foundation of Five Dragon Tower by order of Governor Nguyen Dang Giai who renovated Hanoi. The Mint was built under Gia Long in 1808 and remained active after undergoing many renovations until 1887. It included many buildings, some cottages, some brick houses, surrounded with water culverts which became drier and drier. (138:100)
Houses on Hang Be Street in 1984 with "stepped" roofs. Hang Be made rafts
The rest of the area around Sword Lake became a residential area that became more and more crowded, with houses and streets narrower and more rundown than in the old commercial area. The area north of Sword Lake was densely populated. According to the stele in Ta Khanh hamlet, the residents were mostly people from Nhi Khe village in Hanoi Province and from True Lam village in Hai Duong Province. (28-1:23) People from Nhi Khe village specialized in woodturning and people from True Lam village specialized in tanning and shoemaking. In the late 19th century, Dumoutier wrote that this was “a densely populated and disorderly area with foul smell of tanned leather, and wooden huts on stilts protruded over the surface of the lake.” (157:156).
South of the lake where many mother-of-pearl inlayers worked was also densely populated. “From afar, one can see a narrow path with bamboo fence running along the two sides, leading to a series of houses.” (137:92) As one approaches, one can see “many huts on the lake’s bank. After groping your way in about one hour through narrow hamlets and thousands of zigzag paths and dirty puddles and garbage piles, you found yourself again at the starting point, having not gotten to the lake’s bank.” (136:205)
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