Hanoi Old Quarter

Published: 09/10/2019

The Old Quarter situated near Hoan Kiem Lake in Hoan Kiem district is one of Hanoi’s major commercial district.

Where is the old town of Hanoi?

Hanoi’s old quarter lies between the Restore Sword Lake to the South and the Long Bien Bridge to the North. The former city rampart, now called Tran Nhat Duat Street, marks its eastern border and the citadel wall on Ly Nam De Street its west. According to legend, the king began rebuilding the former Chinese palace, but the walls tumbled down. While he prayed to the local earth god, a white horse emerged from the temple and galloped west. The King decided to build his citadel walls along the traces of its hoof prints and declared the white horse the city’s guardian. The White Horse Pagoda on Hang Buom street still pays homage to that guardian.

In the early 13th century, the collection of tiny workshop villages which clustered around King Ly Thai To palace walls evolved, or guilds to satisfy the court’s demand for the highest quality products. Artisan guilds transport merchandise from the village of manufacture to designated streets in the business quarter which sell it. The commercial City was ideally located between the Palace and the transportation capabilities of the river. A market was at the onetime confluence of the To Lich and Red Rivers. Skilled crafts people migrated there to fill that need.

The special streets with the name “Hang”

A majority of the street name here starts with “Hàng”, which means merchandise or shop. The guild streets were named for their product or location. For example, skilled silversmiths from Hai Hung province now occupy Hang Bac Street one of the most ancient streets in all Vietnam.

Although the old section of Hanoi is called “36 old streets”. There are more than 36 actual streets. Some researchers believe that the number 36 came from the 15th century when there might have been 36 guild locations, which were workshop areas, not streets. When streets were later developed, the guild names were applied to the streets. Others attribute the 36 to a more abstract concept. The number nine in Asia represents the concept of “plenty”. Nine times the four directions make 36, which simply means “many”. There are now more than 70 streets in the area.

With each guild revering it patron saint (its founding patron),the streets of the Old Quarter are dotted with temples and other religious structures. In an area of two square kilometers, there remain over fifty active religious structures although many have been renovated over the centuries. Encroached upon of hidden behind alien additions.

The architecture

In general, you can see most of the streets in the Old Quarter are narrow. In the past, people always got around on foot (except members of the royal family who went out in a sedan chair carried by servants). One type of house that is typical and unique to the Old Quarter of Hanoi is the tube house. Typical measurements for such houses are 3 meters wide and 60 meters long. The structure of that architect model in the style that front room is used for selling or making goods, then there is a yard for getting sunshine. Next room is a palace for living. And most of them are the houses of one floor roofed with tiles. The walls of them are built highly. However, some of the houses are built the storeys but they haven’t got windows.

By the 17th century, the city was protected by 16 gates, which were locked at night by heavy wooden doors. The Quan Truong gate built-in 1749 still stands at the ends of Hang Chieu Street. At the end of the 18th century, the Nguyen Dynasty set up its capital in Hue. Thang Long renamed Hanoi, lost its political power but retained its economic vitality. The citadel of Hanoi was reconstructed and remains the western boundary of the Old Quarter.

The Old Quarter is a precious legacy of Hanoi’s ancient past, but the area is challenged by rapid changes. Today handicraft production is being increasingly replaced by restaurants, repair shops, ad tailors. Craft workers constitute only 9% of the population. Trades make up 40%. As the population increases, historically important buildings have become living spaces, schools or shops.