The World Heritage Committee has just ratified a resolution to recognize the center of the Thăng Long Imperial Citadel in Hà Nội, Việt Nam, as a world cultural heritage site.
Thăng Long, which is Hà Nội's center nowadays, was chosen by Lý Thái Tổ, the founding king of the Lý Dynasty (1009-1225), as the capital of Đại Việt Kingdom (nowadays Việt Nam) since Autumn of 1010.
Thăng Long means “ascending dragon,” symbolizing the will and thirst for independence of the Vietnamese people after more than one thousand years of Chinese domination.
Since then, Thăng Long was almost continuously the capital city of Việt Nam through different reigns: Lý (1010-1225), Trần (1226-1400), Early Lê (1428-1527), Mạc (1572-1592), and the Restored Lê-Trịnh (1592-1789). In the periods when it was not the capital, Thăng Long still remained a central city in the vast area of Bắc Thành or North Việt Nam (1789-1831), Hà Nội Province (1831-1888), or Bắc Kỳ (also known as Tonkin) and the French-ruled Federation of Indochina (1888-1945). During the Nguyễn Dynasty (1802-1945), the capital was moved to Huế. In 1945, Hà Nội was chosen by the Government of Democratic Republic of Việt Nam as the capital.
Previously, from the 7th to 9th centuries, under the domination of feudal China, it was also chosen by the ruling governments as Annam Prefecture (An Nam Đô Hộ Phủ), which included the North and North Central part of present Việt Nam.
From the 11th to 18th centuries, as a capital city, Thăng Long was constructed to adapt to physical features of the area that endowed with rivers and lakes. The citadel system incorporated three rings of rampart. The outer ring was the Đại La Citadel, which ran along the Red River in the East, Tô Lịch River in the North and West, and the Kim Ngưu River in the South. Consequently, the Đại La Citadel functioned itself as both an outer defensive rampart for the whole capital city and a complete dyke system. The second ring, known with many names throughout different periods, was nevertheless called in a common name: Hoàng Thành (Imperial Citadel), housing central governmental bodies. The third ring was the Forbidden City (Cấm Thành), where the King and the royal family's residence located. The architectural structures (system of palaces) were most densely concentrated in the Forbidden City and Imperial City, whose center was the Càn Nguyên Palace (later known as Thiên An or Kính Thiên Palace) built on a hillock called Nùng Mount. Although slight displacement was observed, in general, the location of citadel rings and architectural structures has remained unchanged over different periods.
The present relic complex is located in Ba Đình District, roughly surrounded by Nguyễn Tri Phương, Phan Đình Phùng, Điện Biên Phủ, Trần Phú, Hoàng Văn Thụ and Hùng Vương Streets. Relics in the areas of the Forbidden City and the Imperial Citadel that situated on the central axis of the old citadel are the Cửa Bắc (North Gate), Hậu Lâu, Kính Thiên Palace, Đoan Môn (South Gate), Flag Tower and the archaeological site at 18 Hoàng Diệu Street. The relics found on the ground remain relatively intact and have been well preserved. Archaeological artifacts underground have been discovered and studied for many years. Researchers have found out many architectural vestiges and artifacts from the Chinese domination period, Đinh, Anterior Lê, Lý, Trần, Posterior Lê and Nguyên Dynasties.
Specifically, in the campus of the Ba Đình Assembly Hall at 18 Hoàng Diệu Street, significant architectural vestiges and artifacts of the Thăng Long Imperial Citadel were unearthed.
From December 2002 to the beginning of 2004, the Việt Nam Archaeology Institute excavated on a large scale the archaeological site at 18 Hoàng Diệu Street with the total area of 19,000 m2. This is biggest archaeological excavation site in Việt Nam and Southeast Asia. Here a complex of abundant relics and vestiges from the Đại La Citadel (7th-9th centuries) to Thăng Long Citadel (11th-18th centuries) and Hà Nội Citadel (19th century) was discovered.
In the whole area, cultural layers appear in all locations with cultural and historical vestiges of Thăng Long-Hà Nội during the period of 1,300 years of history. In general, the cultural layers often exist in the depth of 1m downwards with thickness of 2.0-3.50m. At the location of some excavation holes such as A10 – A11, B3 - B9 and D4 - D6 it can be recognized the relics of different periods lying on each other, from the depth of 0.90m to 1.90m is the cultural layer of the Lê Dynasty from the 15th to 18th centuries; from the depth of 1.90m-3m is the cultural layer of the Lý and Trần dynasties (11th to 14th centuries); the depth of 3m-4.20m, the cultural layer of the Pre-Thăng Long period (7th-9th centuries). In cultural layers, it is always found out architectural vestiges typical for the different periods.
The numbers of founded vestiges are many but the majority is bricks, tiles and ceramic ware. In each period the vestiges have a specific feature.
During the 5th-6th centuries, there are grey red bricks, the boarders printed with olive shape, and blue-glazed ceramic bowls.
During the 6th-9th centuries, there are many bricks, tiles, especially bricks inscribed with Chinese characters "Giang Tây quân" in grey color; head of the tiles are decorated with the faces of sacred animals, joker, lotus, etc.
In the 10th century, some bricks and tiles are found, typical is the red bricks of which the surface is inscribed in Chinese characters "Đại Việt quốc quân thành chuyên"; also found out are ridge tiles with statues of bird couple; earthen wares.
In the Lý Dynasty (11th-13th centuries) brick and tile production was strongly developed with various sizes as rectangular and square bricks, the brick face are inscribed with Chinese characters "Lý gia đệ tam đế Long Thụy Thái Bình tứ niên tạo" (Made in the 4th year of Long Thụy Thái Bình, the 3rd king of the Lý - 1057); some square bricks decorated with lotus and daisy. The ceramic wares in the Lý Dynasty, bearing beautiful decoration and sharp colors of pearl, white, green enamels, prove the high skills of ceramics producers at that time.
The Trần Dynasty had continued and developed the artistic styles of the Lý Dynasty, through the ceramic wares with nice decoration in iron brown, white-and-blue colors. The period of the Posterior Lê Dynasty is long and divided into small stages: The Early Lê and Lê-Mạc Dynasties, and the Restored Lê Dynasty.
At the beginning of the Lê Dynasty, the typical vestiges are wooden-hammer brick and Yin-Yang tiles with large dimensions, blue-and-white, white ceramic wares of high quality. In the Lê-Mạc period the tiles carved with dragon motif appeared. The dragon motif style in the Lê-Mạc Dynasties is almost similar to the dragon pattern carved on the lamp stand in the Mạc Dynasty. On the ceramic wares, the dragon motifs are painted in a simple way, not careful in details as at the beginning of the Lê Dynasty. Wooden-hammer bricks with medium and small sizes were used both in the Lê-Mạc Dynasties and the Restored Lê Dynasty. The ceramic wares were abundant but not beautiful as in the previous periods.