HANOI LANDSCAPES AND MUSEUM
Hanoi's Old Quarter
How did the old Quarter begin and evolve through history?
There’s an old Vietnamese saying. "Hanoi has thirty-six streets and guilds-Jam Street. Sugar Street, Salt Street…"
Many folk songs and poems also allude to the traditional numbering of the Old Quarter’s streets at thirty-six:
We stroll about the Dragon City (Thang Long )
Noting that it has exactly thirty-six streets:
Basket, Silver, Hemp, Sail, Tin, Sandal, and Tray…
Paper, Silver, Perpendicular, Silk
Stylish people, cultured individuals
Pass Lath, and you reach Hemp…
However, few people notice that the number thirty-six has always accurately reflected reality.
During different historical, the Old Quarter had a varying number of guilds associated with specific streets. Furthermore, the number of streets depends on how one counts, that is, how one interprets the historical record. A "street" differs from a "guild" During the Le Dynasty (fifteenth to eighteenth centuries) "guild" denoted an organization of people working in the same trade as well as an administrative zone of the old Thang Long (Hanoi) Citadel. The guilds tended to give the names their trades to the streets to the streets where they did their business.
According to historical records, the citadel during the Tran Dynasty (1225-1400) had sixty-one guilds, but the figure dropped to thirty-six during the Le Dynasty. These guilds were of three kinds: agricultural , handicraft, and merchant.
The Du dia chi (Treatise on Geography) written Nguyen Trai in 1438 says, "Thuong Kinh is the capital. It has one phu (town) named Phung Thien and two districts, Tho Xuong and Quang Duc. Each district has eighteen guilds. "The Treatise also mentions several places located in present-day Hanoi’s Old Quarter Nguyen Trai noted, for instance, that hang Dao Guild engaged in dyeing red silk and Ha Tan Guild (modern Hang Buom) in baking limestone.
Given Nguyen Trai’s remark and other historical information, we can conjecture that Hanoi’s Old Quarter came into being at the time King Ly Thai to selected Thang Long as the country’s capital in 1010; we know it became a crowded and lively place after the fifteenth century. The streets generally retain their old names today, even though in most cases their original functions have shifted location or cease to exist.
Vu trung tuy but (Collection Written on Rainy Days) written by Pham Dinh Ho in the late eighteenth century says. "Thanh Long Citadel is composed of thirty-six guilds."
Although Hanoi’s Old Quarter has a 500-year history, few building in the architectural style of the Le Dynasty remain except for several pagodas and communal houses. Most houses and shops were built of mud bricks; they failed to survive the destruction of time. Even where brick structures have survived, their wooden stairs, doors, and window frames are newer. Weather and termites damaged the original.
Most of the houses modern visitors see in the Old Quarter were built at the end of the nineteenth century. But since many of them were erected on their former foundations, they continue to exhibit many architectural characteristics of the buildings that preceded them. The most distinctive of such characteristics, at least for domestic architecture, is the so-called "tube house" whose long, narrow structure resulted from a lack of space within of shop frontage. These dwellings, which no doubt evolved from early market stalls, are often only two to three meters wide, but modern times have forced the residents of the Old Quarter to sub-divide the old tube house. Now, a family of four commonly lives in a space of from fifteen to twenty square meters.
The portrait studio at 51 Hang Dao retains many qualities of the older building. A visitor can feel the Way life was a hundred years ago by peering into this shop. Those deeply interested in architecture might even consider having their portrait in order to have a better look.
All of the long narrow houses had interior courtyards in the old days, though residents have covered many of these over for storage or living quarters. Though small, these courtyards provided light and air and a quiet place for elderly family members to drink tea, cultivate ornamental plants, or raise pet birds and fish. The population explosion has consumed the courtyards. Now, residents use every square meter for commercial purposes or to house their families.
Temples such as Bach Ma (located on Hang Buom) date to an earlier period and predate even the old guilds. Bach Ma, with foundations dating from the ninth century, is dedicated to the white horse said to have shown King Ly Thai To the correct position for his citadel walls.
In addition to influencing domestic architecture, the old guild system also contributed distinctive public building, including temples and communal houses for the various clans that had moved in from the countryside. Guild members invariably built temples to commemorate the founder of their trade or craft. Many of these still exist.
A dinh (communal house) at 64 Ma May Street retains its original features. Ma May presents, in fact, a very interesting architectural tour all by itself. In addition to the dinh, a beautifully restored house at 87 Ma May is open to the public.
The twentieth century also left its characteristic styles, from Soviet modernism to the elaborate faux French facades of the early doi moi (renovation) period, to what might be called the "boutique architecture" of the 1990s, with its slick stone and expanses of glass.
In Civilization and Discontents, Sigmund Freud likened the human mind to his favorite city, Rome. The mind, he wrote, contains layers invisible to consciousness just as the earlier layers of Roman civilization lay buried beneath the modern metropolis. Those buried streets and monuments represent our unconscious minds, he said, affecting our beliefs and feelings even though they can no longer be seen. Had Freud visited Hanoi’s Old Quarter, he might have modified his theories: here, although much doubtless lies buried, many older layers remain available for contemplation.
Source: Hanoi's old quarter, by Huu Ngoc and Lady Borton, The Gioi Publisher
|Tags: Hanoi | Thang Long | Hanoi old quater | Hanoi travel guide | 87 Ma May | Ma May Street | Hang Buom | Hang Dao | Old Quarter | thirty-six streets | King Ly Thai To | Ly Thai To|
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