Hanoi charming with unique architecture hinh anh 1The combination of old and new architecture forms part of Hanoi's uniqueness (Photo: VNA)

Hanoi (VNA)
- Hanoi, a charming city with a history of over one thousand years, is the convergence of cultural and historical essences of Vietnam. Its charm partly derives from oriental and French-style architecture, both ancient and modern, that will exist forever over time. 

Ancient architecture in the Old Quarter

Whenever mentioning Hanoi, it is impossible not to notice the Old Quarter, which has earned Hanoi the name “A city of 36 streets”.

Historical documents show that the Hanoi Old Quarter was formed in around the 10th century, and flourished in the 15th-16th centuries. It sprawls over 82ha to the east of the Thang Long Imperial Citadel, and now spreads over 10 wards of Hoan Kiem district – the heart of Hanoi.

Though called “Hanoi – 36 streets”, the Old Quarter in fact has more than 36 streets. It is a common name that has been widely recognised.

The Old Quarter used to be a place where people from all around the Northern Delta gathered and then turned it into the busiest area of the city, with craft and trade activities. Each street housed craftsmen from well-known craft villages and became a miniature village in the heart of Hanoi.

Each street is also named after the type of goods or service for sale, starting with the word “Hang” (goods), such as Hang Duong (street of sugar), Hang Bac (street of silver), Hang Mam (street of fish sauce), Hang Ma (street of votive paper), Hang Vai (street of fabric), and more.

Though now many items are no longer available for sale on several streets, they are still remindful of a very special period in the Vietnamese history.

The old quarter has a very unique urban feature, where streets are bustling all the time, but still retains the thousand-year traditional cultural values of the capital land.

Hanoi charming with unique architecture hinh anh 2Roofs of houses in the Hanoi Old Quarter (Photo: VNA)

Built in the 18th and 19th centuries, houses in this quarter were small, tube-shaped and roofed with thatch leaves or tiles. Most of them have a brick structure with wooden beams or a structure of force-resistant wooden beams with raising pieces supporting the tiles.

To make the beams, precious timbers, such as Dinh (Markhamia stipulate), teakwood and ironwood were used.

However, what astonished researchers as well as today’s generation is that all calculations for making the house structures were made by workers who had never attended a training course, but only depended on their traditional experience.

In the late 19th and 20th centuries, most houses had a roof made of double tiles or toe cape-shaped tiles. The edges of the roof were decorated with patterns of an old architectural style, creating natural waves.

In the 1920s, houses with roofs of the Indochinese style appeared, including sloping tiled roofs and overlapping tiled roofs, which has similar advantages as the Vietnamese traditional ones.

Many visitors visiting the Old Quarter will feel like returning to the past because of the small space and unique architecture, which is completely different from the crowded streets adjacent to tall buildings or modern works.

First-time visitors, or foreign tourists, may feel overwhelmed, confused when walking on the crowded, narrow streets with houses sitting close together and vehicles crisscrossing. The scene is probably a bit chaotic for strangers. But in order to see the special culture and life there, they need to go and feel with their own eyes.

With its time-tested beauty, the Hanoi Old Quarter has become a major theme in numerous paintings by well-known artist Bui Xuan Phai (1920-1988). Now, whenever mentioning Bui Xuan Phai, people think of the Hanoi Old Quarter, and when it comes to the Hanoi Old Quarter, the name "Pho Phai" (Phai Street) is not strange.

Phai once wrote his feeling about the streets in his diary: “Hanoi has many beauties, old and new, but each beauty is suitable to each person. Old streets and houses with deep brown tile roof, walls covered with moss lying quietly will easily appear beautiful on paintings. Their rhythm is not as even as high-rise buildings and prefabricated houses”.

Hanoi remembered for French colonial structures

Hanoi charming with unique architecture hinh anh 3An aerial view of Long Bien Bridge, a French-built bridge crossing the Red River (Photo: VNA)

Hanoi’s beauty is not only shown in the Old Quarter, but also a blend of western and oriental architecture, notably works built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries such as buildings in the classical French style, luxury villas owned by French officials or wealthy Vietnamese working for foreigners.

Up to 1,586 French-style buildings and villas, built over 100 years ago, are conserved at present. As many as 562 of them are used by individuals and the remaining owned by the State.

As the first French-built iron bridge crossing the Red River, Long Bien Bridge has spanned three centuries, witnessing the wars against French colonialists and US imperialists, and the development of the capital city. The mixture of classical and contemporary architecture has made the bridge uniquely special.

Meanwhile, the Hanoi Opera House was modeled after the famous Palais Opera Garnier in Paris. Its construction was completed in 1911 on August Revolution Square. It is a hard-to-be-missed place when learning about Hanoi culture, especially as its facade is meticulously painted in yellow and white neo-classical colours. Still in regular use, the Hanoi Opera House plays host to a variety of theatre arts, symphony, ballet, musical and chorus performances all year round.

Formerly the Palace of the Governor General of Indochina, the majestic Presidential Palace was built between 1900 and 1902. Most of the villas in the area were built in the style of northern France and feature sloping roofs and decorative elements over the doors and on the roofs.

Another outstanding structure is Hoa Lo Prison, which was first built by the French to incarcerate Vietnamese prisoners but was later used to hold American prisoners of war.

It is both a testimony to the indomitable fighting history of Vietnamese revolutionary soldiers, and a conviction of the barbarous prison regime under the French colonial rule. Because of its historical significance, the Hoa Lo Prison relic site welcomes thousands of visitors each year, 70 percent of them are foreigners, particularly US ex-soldiers who joined the war in Vietnam. 

Skyscrapers rise up in construction boom

Hanoi charming with unique architecture hinh anh 4High-rises on Thang Long Boulevard (Photo: VNA)

In order to understand how the post-war Hanoi is today, it is probably the best to take the elevator to the 67th floor of the second tallest building in Southeast Asia, the Hanoi Lotte Centre – a well-known shopping mall, office and apartment complex.

Like other shopping malls, the complex is often crowded at weekends and has become a regular venue for families or tourists.

Looking at the city from there, more and more buildings of this kind are on the way. Apartments are also being built in great quantity to supply accommodation for a huge population of the modern Hanoi.

Another high building is Keangnam Hanoi Landmark Tower - the highest skyscraper of the city so far. The complex consists of one 72-story mixed-use tower with the height of 350m and two 48-storey hotel twin towers.

It features a 5-star hotel that opened on 18 May 2012. Landmark 72 is also the world's 35th-highest building and formerly was the highest on Indochina Peninsula./.

Dinh Minh Hang VNA