12/12/2010

The Walls of Tay Do Citadel

Than Hoa province is fast becoming a popular destination in many Vietnamese North Central Coast tours. This place has among the most ancient citadels in the country, of which, are sought for by tourists who yearn for interesting histories and amazing architecture. In Vietnam, these structures are mostly made of earth, the only exception being the Ho Dynasty Citadel, which was wholly built in block granite, depicting the power of creativeness and industriousness of the laboring people seven centuries ago.
The citadel, almost square-shaped in design and made from large blocks of stone, sits on a site of about 770,000m2 in Tay Giai and Xuan Giai hamlets, Vinh Tien Commune and Dong Mon hamlet, Vinh Long commune, Vinh Loc district, in the central province of Thanh Hoa. Its principal gate faces Southeast (often referred as South). The Southern and Northern walls measure 877.1m and 977m while the Eastern wall is 879.3m and the Western wall is 880m.
The citadel was built by Ho Quy Ly in 1397 when he was a mandarin under the Tran Dynasty as he planned to move the capital city from Thang Long (now Hanoi) to Thanh Hoa. He dethroned King Tran Thieu De three years later and declared himself the new emperor. Because of this, the citadel was very carefully built. Although Ly has been heavily criticized for overthrowing the Tran Dynasty and letting China dominate the country again after 500 years of independence, several reforms that he initiated during his eight-year reign have stood the test of time, including the circulation of paper money.
The Tay Do citadel is among his greatest achievements. It is considered a “miracle of labor”, as it was built manually in just three months. After more than 600 years, the monument still stands, and the mystery of how it was built still endures. This architectural masterpiece is built with green block granite, the citadel was trapezoidal while other citadels until then were built of bricks and clay earth and bricks. The citadel’s walls are approximately five meters high and three meters thick. Each has a stone entrance, and the citadel itself was protected by deep ditches along each of its walls. The citadel did not serve a uniquely military purpose, however, for inside the enclosure the royal palace could be found. For several years, the Ho Dynasty Citadel served as the seat of the Ho Dynasty's central government. The rocks of which it was built from are 1.3 meters high and 1.59 meters wide and were brought from many places by road or by river. How it was constructed remains a mystery even up to present.
However, his reign proved short-lived when China’s Ming Dynasty invaded and took over the country in 1407 and the citadel was abandoned and destroyed when Ho Quy Ly was captured and taken prisoner by Ming troops. The only vestiges remaining of the Ho Dynasty Citadel are its south wall and gate, and two carved stone dragons that formerly had been part of the royal palace's structure. Among the interesting artifacts at the citadel are round stones that are believed to have been used as levers to move giant granite blocks hundreds of years ago.
The citadel is an outstanding symbol of a combination between the Vietnamese architecture and the unique building techniques of Vietnam, Southeast Asia and Eastern Asia. In terms of architectural history, the Ho Dynasty’s citadel played an important place in the planning and building of urban areas in Vietnam. It showed the uniqueness in the construction of a citadel in general and a stone citadel in particular, and a breakthrough in Vietnam’s tradition of building citadel. It was the biggest stone citadel in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, symbolizing the power and greatness of the Ho Dynasty no matter how short-lived. Today the citadel has been gradually restored and embellished with the aim of preserving a unique architectural work which has existed for over 600 years.