In the past, Hanoi’s Royal Citadel was surrounded by a wall that had five gates. Most Hanoians are familiar with an old song that recounts: “The five city gates are welcoming the coming soldiers as if a flower with five petals is blooming…”
According to historians, two gates once stood on the southern side of the old Hanoi citadel: the West-South Gate and the East-South Gate. The latter was also known as Dai Hung Gate. Cua Nam (Southern Gate) is now the name of a street, and several other names in the Old Quarter remind us of the now demolished Citadel.
The name of Dinh Ngang Street refers to the checkpoint where soldiers once monitored those entering the royal Citadel. Cam Chi Street, which means “Forbidden Zone”, refers to an area that was once out of bounds for commoners. The second-shortest street in Hanoi, Dinh Ngang measures only 54m-long.Nearby lies a Park, where a small-scale replica of the Statue of Liberty stood during French colonial times.
Known locally as the “Open-Dressed Dame”, this statue was exhibited at the Dau Xao Fairgrounds in 1887 then given to Hanoi. The statue was first placed in the park in front of the Indochina Bank, then on top of the Turtle Temple, and finally in Bach Viet Park in 1896. On August 1st, 1945, the Tran Trong Kim government had the statue removed as a “colonial remnant”. The bronze was used by artisans in Ngu Xa village to cast an impressive 16-ton Buddha statue.
Earlier, the site where the statue had stood had been home to Quang Van Hall, built in 1491. During the Le Dynasty new graduates were presented at Quang Van Hall. Under the reign of Gia Long it was renamed Quang Minh Hall. During the Nguyen Dynasty, people gathered here to hear the announcement of royal decrees.
Long ago, mandarins were required to carry parasols when they entered the imperial Citadel. To eater to their needs, merchants set up shop along Hang Long Street (now Le Duan Street) and Hang Day Street (now Nguyen Thai Hoc Street). At the corner of these streets stood the Taupin printing house, where the first banknotes showing Ho Chi Minh’s portrait were printed. The former printing house is now a wholesale store at No. 5 Nam Bo.
“Various street names remind us of Hanoi’s ancient royal Citadel.”
In 2005, the corner Nguyen Thai Hoc and Nam Bo streets was designated a “Hanoi Cultural Street” for its beauty and historic relevance. Especially noteworthy is the house at number 65 Nuyen Thai Hoc, which has been home to many important earth 20th century artists, including painters Nguyen Phan Chanh, Nuyen Tu Nghiem and Van Giao, musicians Do Nhuan and Do Hong Quan, the actress Chieu Xuan, writers Nuyen Dinh Thi And Vu Tu Nam and the journalist Nguyen Thi Thanh Huong.
Nuyen Thai Hoc Street is close to Trang Thi Street, where royal exams were once held on the site of what is now the National Library. This street has changed its independence in 1954 the street was renamed Trang Thi.
While Hanoi is undergoing many changes, there are many reminders of the city’s long and fascinating past – if you know where to look for them.