Hoa Lu, the site of the capital of Vietnam in the 10th and 11th centuries, was on our way back to the homestay from our other sightseeing activities in Ninh Binh. Since we made the effort to get all the way to Ninh Binh from our home base in Nghi Son, we thought we’d better at least stop by and see what we could see. Hoa Lu was chosen as the capital because of the natural topography which made it very difficult to attack and take over. During its time as the capital, two enemy forces tried to conquer it, but one group was caught in a storm at sea and had to turn back, the other force from China was repelled in the northern part of the country, and turned away. It seemed like this time period in Vietnam was tumultuous, though, and so the capital was moved in the 12th century to Hanoi when a new leader emerged and again united the country.
The entrance to Hoa Lu is quite striking, although it is obvious that the gate was not built in the 10th century. Very few of the original buildings and structures from the capital remain, and we did not venture too far because it was hot and we were tired by this point in the afternoon. There are two temples that were built to honor the first and second warlord/emperors, after their death that are still standing, so we set out to check those out. In front of the temple area was a large open space. My understanding is that there is a festival held every year with dancing, athletic contests, and other activities that take place in this giant open space.
First up, we visited the temple of Dinh Tien Hoang. It is named after Dinh Bo Linh, who was a warlord that defeated twelve other warlords and united the country, creating the first imperial dynasty in Vietnam. The temple was built on the remains of the royal palace, and so before reaching the temple we walked through lush green gardens.
This temple was unique in the type and color of its decor. I have no idea how they did it, but the wood pillars and finishes were etched with gold dragons and designs. It was impossible to capture a good photo of these pillars, but it was beautiful in the dim light of the temple. The front room of the temple had an altar for food offerings, and then the statues of the emperor were around the back, with more altars. Dinh Bo Linh did not appoint a successor, and so when he was assassinated, his 6-year-old son was put on the throne, with his chief commander, Le Hoan as regent. China heard about this weak child leader and wanted to send an army to overthrow the monarchy. Le Hoan put down an internal rebellion and made himself emperor, after marrying Bo Linh’s widow. So, in this temple were figures for Bo Linh and his son, but his wife’s figure is in the neighboring temple to the second emperor, Bo Linh’s army commander, Le Hoan. This is due to Confucian principles stating that the wife should always be buried/placed with her most recent husband.
Next, we headed over to Le Hoan’s temple. This one was not built on the remains of the imperial palace, but there was a pretty lily and koi pond! The boys were done looking at temples, so they stayed and watched the fish while I checked out the temple. It looked remarkably similar to the first emperor’s temple!
By the time we were done with Hoa Lu, it was mid-afternoon and we had been out in the heat all day. So perhaps this post is not as enthusiastic as normal, but Austin reminded me that the temples in the capital were made of wood and really neat! We had never seen anything like it in all of our travels. I would recommend this place as somewhere to fill about an hour of time in between other big name attractions around Ninh Binh. If you have a few days and want to check it out, great! If you don’t have time, you are not missing that much.