The Treasures of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long

For the past decade, archeologists have been excavating the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long. Visitors should not miss the chance to explore Hanoi’s long and fascinating history

If you come to Hanoi and wish to learn about the capital’s thousand- year history, you should visit the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long. Here, you can travel some 1,300 years back in time, viewing architectural remnants and artifacts. The Citadel also offers peaceful moments in one of Vietnam’s busiest cities.


The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is the name of an ancient building. Before becoming the capital of Vietnam’s feudal state, it was a prefecture of invading forces from the North. It is also the heart of Hanoi – the current capital of Vietnam.


In 1010, Emperor Ly Cong Uan, who was the founder the Ly Dynasty (1009- 1225), decided to choose Dai La as his capital instead of Hoa Lu. He felt this land to be a place where “the dragon rolls and the tiger sits”, and thus worthy of an “eternal capital”. Dai La was renamed “Thang Long” (Flying Dragon) in hope that the country would flourish like a flying dragon.
For over a thousand years, the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long has repeatedly changed owners, names and appearances. Nonetheless, “Thang Long – Dong Do – Ha Noi” has retained its prestige and position as the “eternal capital” of Vietnam.

The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long would be unknown were it not for a large-scale archaeological excavation that began there in December 2002. During 10 years of excavations, archaeologists have found millions of artifacts and hundreds of architectural vestiges from the Dai La Dynasty (8th-9th centuries), Dinh – Tien Le Dynasty (10th century), Ly Dynasty (11th-13th centuries), Tran Dynasty (13th-14th centuries), Le So Dynasty (15th-16th century), Mac Dynasty (the second half of the 16th century), Le Trung Hung Dynasty (17th- 18th centuries), Nguyen Dynasty (19th-early 20th centuries).

These archaeological discoveries not only support written accounts about ancient Thang Long – Ha Noi, but also serve as valuable evidence of Vietnam’s ancient architecture. This archaeological excavation brought the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long to the world to became a cultural heritage of mankind. Once a top- secret and highly guarded place, the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is now open to tourists from all over the world.


Cultural tours in the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long start from structures on the ground and end with newly excavated vestiges that have been unearthed after thousands of years underground.

The oldest remaining work on the principal ground of Hoang Thanh was built in 1428 during Le So Dynasty. Two dragon-carved corridors built 200 years apart lie in front of and behind the palace. Two stone dragons in Kinh Thien Palace embody the stone carving art of the Le So Dynasty and deserve to be honored as the most valuable treasures in the Imperial Citadel.


After ascending the throne in Hue in 1802, Emperor Gia Long demolished the palace of the Le Dynasty and built another according to the Vauban model with a 4 km perimeter. He used this palace as the center of political power in the North. However, Emperor Gia Long still kept Kinh Thien Palace and used it as a royal rest-stop for the Emperor when he travelled to the North every week. In 1841, Kinh Thien Palace was renamed Long Thien Palace by Emperor Thieu Tri who chose it as a place to take holidays. In 1882, after occupying the citadel, the French colonialists destroyed many structures in the Citadel and built others to serve their military and administrative forces. However, many structures from the Nguyen Dynasty such as the Hanoi Flag Tower, Doan Mon, North Gate, wall systems and entrance gates, etc were retained. These are major attractions for tourists visiting the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long.

The structures of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long became the headquarters of the Ministry of Defence (1954- 2004) as well as tourist attractions. Visitors can see the meeting hall of the General Staff and the underground bunkers of the Communist Party. The two-floor building in the French architecture style in the center became a gallery for artifacts collected from the grounds of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long.

Visitors can see many architectural materials from different periods, such as bricks, band tiles, ornamental tiles printed images of dragons, phoenixes, etc. Unique ceramic artifacts from Vietnam and foreign countries made in different eras are on display. This evidence confirms the prosperity and trade networks of ancient Thang Long.


Leaving the gallery, tourists should visit the archaeological excavation. This is where the thousand-year history of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long was awakened. Over the past decade, archaeologists have discovered vestiges of 95 architectural monuments, 22 wells and 31 sewers, seven foundations of protective walls as well as lakes, embankments, etc. from the 8th century until the 18th century in the grounds of the Citadel, plus vestiges of an ancient river and millions of objects made of different materials. These vestiges and objects prove that Vietnam’s feudal dynasties continuously chose this sacred land as the capital of the country. It deserves to be the “eternal capital” as predicted by Emperor Ly Thai To more than a thousand years ago



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