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Early Days of Hanoi

The site of present-day Hanoi has been populated for at least 10,000 years, by tribes with different languages and cultures. Hanoi of that time was largely submerged in the surrounding highlands where the tribes were able to set up their homes. Those inhabitants formed a feudally organized society that first relied on hunting, fishing and gathering, later developing animal husbandry and agriculture. Generations after generations they inherited their ancestors' customs and beliefs and laid ground for the early days of Vietnamese culture.

Van Lang - Au Lac time

Hung Dynasty reined Van Lang for as long as 18 generations. King Hungs built their palaces in Phong Chau, Phu Tho. Hanoi during theHung Dynasty was only a suburb of Phong Chau.

King An Duong Vuong of Au Lac chose Co Loa (presently Dong Anh district, Hanoi) as the capital. Although reining Au Lac only in a short period of time, An Duong Vuong left to the next generations a valuable treasure - the Co Loa citadel, which took the shape of a snail, together with its many legacies. Since then Hanoi, known together with its Co Loa citadel, has gone into history as the first political and social centre of the Vietnamese nation.

Alongside fortification skills, the Au Lac tribes also excelled in inventing and using bows and arrows for defence. Legend has it that An Duong Vuong had a supernatural bow that could dispatch thousand of arrows in one shoot. An Duong Vuong used the bow to drive away Trieu Da (king of Nam Viet, China) in his many attempts to conquer Au Lac. Thwarted by An Duong Vuong in battle fields, Trieu Da later got hold of the bow making secret by arranging a marriage between his son, Trong Thuy, with An Duong Vuong's daughter, My Chau, and asked An Duong Vuong to allow Trong Thuy to stay with My Chau in the Au Lac kingdom. An Duong Vuong accepted the proposal. My Chau later naively passed the secret of bow making to Trong Thuy, who helped his father to eventually defeat An Duong Vuong.

Literature records that being chased by Trieu Da's army, An Duong Vuong and his daughter were riding his horse for their lives. My Chau pinched off the furs on her coat along the way, to help inform her husband of their whereabouts. On discovering that his daughter had given the enemy a hand, An Duong Vuong took out the sword to kill My Chau before drowning himself in the sea of Dien Chau, Nghe An. Trong Thuy arrived, discovering his wife's body, and committed suicide.

Tong Binh District during Northern Chinese Dependence

Au Lac kingdom was conquered and became a county of China. In the middle of the 5th century, Hanoi was a county named Tong Binh. In 679 the Duong dynasty of China established An Nam (today North Vietnam) as its own land and chose Hanoi as the principal city of An Nam.

In 545, Ly Bi staged a revolt against the Chinese Liang dynasty, putting up a castle by the To Lich river mouth. He based in Long Bien (a north suburb of Hanoi).

In 808 a large castle named Dai La was built around Hanoi for military purpose. However, the Dai La road built on top of the La Thanh bank in Hanoi today does not deride directly from Dai La castle. La Thanh bank and Dai La road are thought to be developed from the remains of the castles during the Ly and Tran dynasties.

The year 938 saw King Ngo Quyen winning the battle against the Han emperor and Hanoi once again became the capital of the independent Vietnam.

Thang Long (Soaring Dragon) and the Ly dynasty

King Ngo Quyen based his palace in Co Loa (suburb of Hanoi). He did not rule the country for long. The Dinh and early Le dynasties had different ideas for their palaces. Hoa Lu (presently Ninh Binh) was chosen as the capital during the two dynasties: Dinh Bo Linh and Le Hoan.

In 1010, King Ly Thai To moved the capital from Hoa Lu to Thang Long (Hanoi). According to ancient history, the king saw a vision of a golden dragon ascending from the Hong river, and decided to change Dai La to Thang Long (Ascending Dragon).

The Ly dynasty was best remembered for the construction of many cultural and historical sites such as Van Mieu, Quoc Tu Giam (National University), Voi Phuc (Prostrating Elephant) temple, Quan Thanh pagoda, one-pillar Pagoda, etc.

Van Mieu (Temple of Literature) was dedicated to Confucius, this temple was built in 1070, according to the plans of the literary pagoda of Kien Fou, village of origin of the wise old man. The temple is surrounded by brick walls. Inside, the complex is separated into five areas. The first area contains the main gate with the inscription "Van Mieu Mon" (Disciple of Temple of Literature) and two stone dragons in the style of the Le So Dynasty.

The main path leads to Khue Van Cac (Pavilion of Literature). There are also two small gates on both sides of Khue Van Cac. The third section divides Khue Van from the Dai Thanh Mon (the Gate of Great Synthesis), and contains a square lake, Thien Quang Tinh (the Well of Heaven's Clarity), surrounded by walls. On both sides of the well are pavilions full of stelae inscribed with the names of Ph.D scholars.

Quoc Tu Giam or School for the sons of the Nation was established in 1076 for the princes. The school later admitted sons of mandarins and finally commoners were allowed to attend but, only after they passed a rigorous examination at the regional level.

During the time when Van Mieu was used as a school, Quoc Tu Giam housed classrooms, housing facilities and a print shop. When the university was moved to Hue, Quoc Tu Giam was turned into a shrine to Confucius' parents called Khai Thanh.

Chua Mot Cot (One-Pillar Pagoda) was built by Emperor Ly Thai Tong who ruled from 1028-1054. According to folklore, the emperor met the Goddess of Mercy who was seated on a lotus flower in his dream. In the dream, the Goddess handed him a male child. The emperor later met and married a peasant who subsequently bore him a son. This One-pillar pagoda was built in gratitude. The original pagoda was destroyed by the French but was later rebuilt by the new government. It is made of wood, standing on a single stone pillar designed to resemble a lotus blossom.


Hanoi's Old Quarter (the 36 Streets) and the Tran Dynasty

The Old Quarter began to acquire its reputation as a crafts area in the 11th century when King Ly Thai To built his palace there. In the early 13th century, the collection of tiny workshop villages which clustered around the palace walls evolved into craft cooperatives, or guilds. Skilled craftsmen migrated to the Quarter, and artisan guilds were formed by craftsmen originating from the same village and performing similar services. Members of the guilds worked and lived together, creating a cooperative system for transporting merchandise to the designated streets in the business quarter.

Located between the Lake of the Restored Sword, the Long Bien Bridge, a former city rampart, and a citadel wall, the Old Quarter started as a snake and alligator-infested swamp. A majority of the street names here start with Hang, which means merchandise or shop. The guild streets were named for their products or locations. For example, skilled silversmiths from Hai Hung province now occupy Hang Bac Street, one of the most ancient streets in all Vietnam. Each guild had its own patron saint to which many local temples are dedicated. Hang Bong Street has five such temples.

Because inhabitants of each street came from the same village, streets developed a homogeneous look. Commoners' homes evolved out of market stalls, before streets were formed. Because storekeepers were taxed according to the width of their storefront, storage and living space moved to the rear of the buildings. Consequently, the long and narrow buildings were called "tube houses." Typical measurements for such houses are 3 meters wide by 60 meters long.

The Old Quarter has a rich religious heritage. When the craftsmen moved from outlying villages into the capital, they brought with them their religious practices. They transferred their temples, pagodas and communal houses to their new locations. Each guild has one or two religious structures and honours its own patron saint or founder. Therefore, on each street in the Old Quarter there is at least one temple. Now, many of the old temples in the Old Quarter have been transformed into shops and living quarters, but some of the old buildings' religious roots can still be recognized by the architecture of their roofs.

When streets were later developed, the guild names were applied to the streets. Thang Long was also known as 'Ke Cho' (Market Place) as it housed many of trading streets. Some streets have achieved fame by their inclusion in popular guidebooks. Hang Gai Street offers silk clothing ready-made and tailored, embroidery, and silver products. Hang Quat, the street that formerly sold silk and feather fans. To Thinh Street connects the above two and is still the wood turner's street. Hang Ma glimmers with shiny paper products, such as gift wrappings, wedding decorations and miniature paper objects to burn for the dead. Lan Ong Street is a sensual delight of textures and smells emanating from the sacks of herbal medicinal products: leaves, roots, barks, and powders.

  Street Names Description
  1 - Bat Dan Wooden Bowls
  2 - Bat Su China Bowls
  3 - Cha Ca Roasted Fish
  4 - Chan Cam String Instruments
  5 - Cho Gao Rice Market
  6 - Gia Ngu Fishermen
  7 - Hai Tuong Sandals
  8 - Hang Bac Silversmiths
  9 - Hang Be Rafts
  10 -Hang Bo Basket
  11 -Hang Bong Cotton
  12 -Hang Buom Sails
  13 -Hang But Brushes
  14 -Hang Ca Fish
  15 -Hang Can Scales
  16 -Hang Chai Bottles
  17 -Hang Chi Threads
  18 -Hang Chieu Mats
  19 -Hang Chinh Jars
  20 -Hang Cot Bamboo Latices
  21 -Hang Da Leather
  22 -Hang Dao (Silk) Dyer
  23 -Hang Dau Beans
  24 -Hang Dau Oils
  25 -Hang Dieu Pipes
  26 -Hang Dong Copper
  27 -Hang Duong Sugar
  28 -Hang Ga Chicken
  29 -Hang Gai Hemp
  30 -Hang Giay Paper
  31 -Hang Giay Shoes
  32 -Hang Hanh Onions
  33 -Hang Hom Cases
  34 -Hang Huong Incense
  35 -Hang Khay Trays
  36 -Hang Khoai Sweet Potatoe
  37 -Hang Luoc Comb
  38 -Hang Ma Votive papers
  39 -Hang Mam Pickled Fish
  40 -Hang Manh Bamboo-screens
  41 -Hang Muoi Salt
  42 -Hang Ngang Transversal Street
  43 -Hang Non Hats
  44 -Hang Phen Alum
  45 -Hang Quat Fans
  46 -Hang Ruoi Clam Worms
  47 -Hang Than Charcoal
  48 -Hang Thiec Tin
  49 -Hang Thung Barrel
  50 -Hang Tre Bamboo
  51 -Hang Trong Drum
  52 -Hang Vai Cloth
  53 -Lo Ren Blacksmiths
  54 -Lo Su Coffins
  55 -Ma May Rattan
  56 -Ngo Gach Bricks
  57 -Thuoc Bac Herbal Medicine

The Tran Dynasty (1225-1400) built hundreds of royal palaces and monuments, temples and residences, elegant and luxurious in Thang Long. During the wars against the Mongols, Thang Long was the rendezvous of the landmark Dien Hong National Conference. In 1257, 1284, and 1287, the Mongol armies of Kublai Khan sacked the capital on each occasion, only to find that the Vietnamese had anticipated their attacks and evacuated the city beforehand.

The fourteenth century was marked by wars with Champa, which the Tran reduced to a feudatory state by 1312. Champa freed itself again by 1326 and, under the leadership of Cham hero Che Bong Nga, staged a series of attacks on Vietnam between 1360 and 1390, sacking Thang Long in 1371. The Vietnamese again gained the upper hand following the death of Che Bong Nga in battle in 1382


Royal City of Thang Long and the Le dynasty

Ho Quy Ly dethroned the Tran dynasty and ruled Vietnam between 1400 and 1407. He chose Tay Do (Thanh Hoa at present) as the capital. Thang Long under the Ho dynasty was renamed twice: Dong Do (Eastern Capital) and Dong Quan (Eastern District), before and during the invasion of the Chinese Minh Dynasty.

In 1428, 24 years after the Minh conquered Vietnam, Le Loi liberated Vietnam and came to the thrown. Dong Do was renamed Dong Kinh (Eastern Citadel). In 1459, King Le Thanh Ton extended the Hoang Thanh (Royal Citadel) 8 miles in length. A rectangular castle inside the Hoang Thanh was built and named Cam Thanh (Forbidden Citadel). The Heavenly Palace was built under the reign of King Le Thai To on the top of Nung Hill was where the former of the Can Nguyen and Thien An palaces were located during the Ly and Tran dynasties.

Sword Lake

In 1512, King Le Tuong Duc, infamous for his intemperance and profligacy, commissioned the then talented architect Vu Nhu To to build more than 100 palace roofs with steps atop and a tower called Cuu Trung Dai (Nine-Storeyed Tower). The tower was later destroyed by peasant uprisings. In 1514, the king continued to expand Hoang Thanh several thousand truongs further (1 truong=3.6m). The east side met Hang Cot, Hang Dieu and Hang Da. The north side reached today Hoang Hoa Tham street. Towards the west the palace extended to the present Buoi road.

Between 1460-1497 Thang Long saw LE THANH TONG as a great king with strong nationalism. He issued the HONG DUC LAWS, the first national laws in Vietnamese history. He also created the TAO DAN GROUP of 28 best poets that contributed a great number of excellent literature works.

Thang Long during the Trinh-Nguyen struggle for power

Thang Long during the Mac dynasty (1527-1592) experienced multiple destructions under fractional fighting for power. Palaces, warehouses, streets were repeatedly set fire and destroyed. The Royal Citadel was left in emptiness and destruction for many years. In 1585, Mac Mau Hop, returned to Thang Long and reconstructed the Royal Citadel to guard off lord Trinh's attacks. The citadel became smaller, several palaces were left unused and decayed. However, the citadel was wider than that of the Ly-Tran dynasties, and still wider than Hanoi as a province under the Nguyen dynasty.

In 1592, Lord Trinh killed Mac Mau Hop and helped King Le The Tong return to Thang Long. Lord Trinh reconstructed the Royal Citadel for King Le to reside and built his own mansion outside the citadel. Lord Trinh's mansion subsequently became the central governmental building with many extravagant and splendid buildings such as: Ngu Long Cupola (east of Sword Lake), Ta Vong Temple, Thuy Khanh Palace (on today's Ngoc Son island). In 1728 lord Trinh Giang also built tunnels south of the Sword Lake with the intention of constructing a underground palace.

Although politically unrest, Thang Long this period still saw the peak of economic and cultural progresses. The sprawling of market places facilitated trading and booted population in the cities. Nguyen Binh Khiem and Phung Khac Khoan were two great intellectuals of this time. Interestingly, among many PhD graduates, this period produced a female Tran Thi Due. By the 17th century Thang Long could also count an increasing number of business premises belong to traders from England, Holand and China.


Thang Long during the Tay Son dynasty

In the summer of 1786, the Tay Son army advanced north into Thang Long and overthrew the Trinh lord. On the day of 21st July 1786, the Tay Son army took control of Thang Long. The capital saw the extraordinary wedding of Nguyen Hue, the Tay Son leader, and the princess Ngoc Han of Thang Long. After the marriage Nguyen Hue and Ngoc Han returned south, leaving the north of the country to King Le Chieu Thong.

In the end of 1788 King Le Chieu Thong went to China asking for military help and on 16th December 1788, a Chinese army of 290.000 soldiers invaded Vietnam. On hearing the news, Nguyen Hue crowned himself King Quang Trung and promptly moved north. In the beginning of 1789, King Quang Trung defeated the Chinese army. In the Ngoc Hoi - Dong Da battle, King Quang Trung himself led the army to victory over the Chinese and victoriously entered Thang Long. After the victory, Quang Trung only left a small part of his army in Thang Long, with the most coming back to Phu Xuan (Hue). Under King Quang Trung, Thang Long was only a principal city of the northern land, while Hue became the capital of Vietnam.


Thang Long during the Nguyen dynasty

To govern the northern of Vietnam, the Nguyen dynasty rebuilt the Thang Long citadel. Thang Long became smaller compared to previous dynasties. The citadel followed a French architecture, square in shape, 1 km each side, perimeter of about 1285 truongs (1 truong = 3.6 m). The citadel wall was 4 truongs thick and 5 m high, with 5 entrances: North, East, West, South West and South East.

The Flag Tower was built between 1805 and 1812 with a height of over 40m. It consists of an octagonal pedestal and a roof with the flag pole on a grand three-step staircase.

The Inner Palace was known as “the Palace of the Princesses”. Having been built in the architectural style of the Nguyen dynasty, it was renovated during the period of the French domination. It was the vest home for the imperial maids who accompanied the King during his travels in Northern Vietnam.

Army barracks were positioned outside the citadel, while residents lived further outwards. The outermost of Hanoi citadel has the perimeter of 16 km, with 16 entrances where people from all areas around can enter Hanoi.

In 1831, King Nguyen continued to narrow Thang Long further and it became the Hanoi province. Many cultural sites experienced changes: Quoc Tu Giam (National University) was moved to Hue, schools where exams were organized became entertaining places. Since then Thang Long has gone into the national history with a new name: Ha Noi.


Hanoi and the French colonism

By 1867 south Vietnam was a French colony. Hanoi was captured in 1874. The dramatic fall of Hanoi citadel accompanied by the suicide of the patriotic general in charge of its defence, governor Hoang Dieu. The impotent imperial court was allowed to remain, indulging itself in various coups and capers, but the French controlled the nation.

In 1882 The French sent naval officer Henri Riviere on an expedition to the northern Vietnam on the pretext of securing the Hanoi area for trade purposes. While there, Riviere was given the authority to capture the Hanoi. When he attempted to do this in 1883 with limited forces, he was defeated and killed. In response to the killing of Riviere, France sent Admiral Courbet and his fleet to northern Vietnam to deal with the northern resistance.

After conquering Hanoi, the French quickly set up their own governing system there. In 1901, they built Thong Su government building, post offices, courts, horse racing tracks, Dong Khanh street, Gia Long street, and a number of churches and factories.


A Village Board of Governors

From 1897 as the number of French nationals coming to Vietnam for businesses were increasing, many new buildings and subordinate developments were built up to support foreign trading. After the first world war, the French sped up their exploitation of Indochina, and Hanoi saw many changes with more workers arriving in the city looking for employment.


Hanoi since the August Revolution

In September 1940, Japanese army entered Hanoi to mark a period when Hanoi people were harshly ruled by both the French and the Japanese. Living costs quickly increased, new taxes were introduced and Vietnamese peasants were forced by the Japanese to root up rice for planting jute, all of which eventually led to the death of two million northern Vietnamese with Hanoi becoming a shared graveyard for many people dying of starvation.

On 15th August 1945 the Japanese surrendered to the alliance. The Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) seized the opportunity to begin a revolution - the August Revolution. Within two days all state departments were brought to a hall and on 19th August 1945 Hanoi people staged a demonstration to take control of Bac Bo Phu (northern government building), Secret Police Office and Security Service Camp. The August Revolution ended more than 80 years of French colonism on Vietnam only within 10 days. On 2nd September 1945, Hanoi saw a sea of elated crowd gathering on the Badinh Square to listen to president Ho Chi Minh reading out the Declaration For Independence of Vietnam.

When the French attacked and occupied Vietnam (1946-1945), the Hanoi Defend Regiment withdrew from the capital while all other liberating units were still active in factories, streets and markets. The most noticeable sights of Hanoi resistance against the occupying French were the student demonstration against the assassination of student Tran Van Son by the French force and its Vietnamese henchmen in Saigon, the battle of the Bach Mai and Gia Lam airports.

During the American war, Hanoi defied the power of American air force in 12 days and nights of the Christmas bombing by American B52 warplanes in December 1972, with America intending to bring Vietnam back to the Stone Age. Ironically, with 358 airplanes being shot down in years of the war and many pilots imprisoned, Hanoi brought Washington back to the negotiating table and gained upper hand in securing a Paris Peace Accord in which America accepted all but in word defeat in the war against the will of Vietnamese people for the independence of their own country.

The 140-year-old famous Cha Ca La Vong restaurant today

At present Hanoi has a population of around 3 million. The city is administratively divided into 9 inner and 5 outer districts. For almost a millennium Hanoi has been up and down in its history, but today Hanoi has become a city of peace and friendliness. In 1999 UNESCO recognized Hanoi as 'the city of peace' in Asia and the Ocean region.