The ancient capital of Vietnam – Hoa Lu

After Trang An and a disappointing meal of terrible french fries, I got on the bike and continue to cycle to reach Hoa Lu. This used to be the capital of an ancient Vietnamese Kingdom called Dai Co Viet in the 10th century. It was a relatively small place, covering only 300 hectares and enclosed by a citadel.

When visiting this place nowadays, is not at all that impressive – surely in comparison to what it once was. There are some nice views from the top of one of the hills, and some temples you can visit as well as exhibitions with objects from excavations that may be ongoing. There is plenty of space to walk around, some animals taking their time grazing.

Some proclaiming to be tour guides offered their services, which I politely declined. I did want to understand a bit more about the significance of the place and soon I realise how the explanations were scarce. Yet, my research quickly showed me that while this is considered the first capital of Vietnam, the Kingdom only lasted for a few years between the 10th and the 11th century.

The location was strategic. The place is surrounded by limestone mountains, which kept the citadel hidden from potential invaders (the major concern, the Chinese). What I kept thinking when looking at the karsts – not just here but also in Halong Bay – is how unaccessible they are for us, mere human beings. Climbing those would be a complete mission impossible, and only goats have the needed dexterity to conquer these incredible mountains. From the northwest, the citadel is bordered by the Hoang Long River, which also runs through the city. we all know very well how rivers are important to any city – the fresh waters cooled the city in the warmer Summer months but also it was a convenient and necessary resource for trade and other businesses.

Thankfully, Hoa Lu never had to put to test its natural defences, as it never was under attack during the years it served as the capital of the Kingdom. Considered the first Emperor of Vietnam, Dinh Tien Hoang founded the city, but before him, there were twelve warlords competing for the domain of the northern lands. Dinh defeated them and unified the kingdom under his rule in 968 AD.

Hoa Lu remained the capital until the founder of the Ly dynasty, Ly Cong Uan, transferred it to what is now Hanoi, in 1010. The city was then abandoned and left in the hands of the natural elements it deteriorated. When visiting Hoa Lu, it is very clear that most of what you see is not from the 10th century, when the capital was thriving under the rule of the first Emperors. In fact, what we see today, was likely built 700 years later, in the 17th century.

The temples commemorate the various Emperors of Hoa Lu and their families but, around these temples, the locals run their own businesses and go on with their daily lives.

While this was far from being the most impressive citadel I had the chance to visit in Vietnam, this place definitely has significance for the country and for the locals that may outcast any other attraction specifically in the region. In cafes, restaurants, and at the hotel, everyone told me about this place. Proudly claiming that it was the first capital of Vietnam. It is sacred. And I’m glad I took myself there. Just on the day before my last in Vietnam.




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