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The changing face of Vietnam’s capital in history

Reading the glorious pages of Vietnam’s history, one is fascinated by, among other things, the role and position of the Hoa Lu ancient capital, now part of Truong Yen commune, Hoa Lu district, Ninh Binh province, in the development of the country.

In 1010, King Ly Cong Uan moved the capital from Hoa Lu to Thang Long, which is now Hanoi. The renowned Mot Cot (One Pillar) Pagoda in Hanoi originated in Hoa Lu and its "precursor" named Nhat Tru (a Chinese word meaning "one pillar") is still located in the town.

Hoa Lu became the capital as soon as the country began the Dai Viet (Great Viet) era of civilisation. It was the capital under the two dynasties of Dinh and Le (869 – 1010), founded by Dinh Bo Linh and Le Hoan, respectively. The former demonstrated his talents and qualities early in his childhood, winning the war games he played with his friends using flags of reed, which later became the symbolic image of his movement. Upon reaching adulthood, he brought the fighting among the 12 Vietnamese feudal lords to an end, thus uniting the country. The victory led to his coronation and King Dinh Bo Linh decided to make Hoa Lu the capital and name the country Dai Co Viet (both Dai, a Chinese word, and Co, an ancient Vietnamese term, mean Great), which asserted the pride of the fatherland, its greatness and equality in comparison with neighbouring countries.

Le Hoan’s greatest achievement was the victory over the Chinese Sung dynasty’s invading troops. He developed the "stone capital" of Hoa Lu into grand natural defence lines and had many majestic palaces built there.

The Ly dynasty then moved the capital to Thang Long, but the succeeding Tran dynasty, while still maintaining Thang Long as the capital, set up palaces in Thai Vi, part of the Tam Coc - Bich Dong area, not far from Hoa Lu. The objective was both to protect Vietnamese forces in a strategic withdrawal, and await opportunities to launch counterattacks against Yuan Chinese-Mongolian invaders, and locate palaces in the beautiful local rivers and mountains of the area.

Coming to Ninh Binh, you will hear interesting legends about monarchs and dynasties, which contain unusually rare coincidences. This is the native places of two heroes, born in two villages on the two banks of the Day River, in the province’s Gia Vien district. One of them - Dinh Bo Linh - became a King while the other, whose name is Nguyen Minh Khong, became a Saint. Besides the two men, Ninh Binh is also famous for two pretty ladies, each of whom made contributions to the country during two different dynasties. They were Queen Mother Duong Van Nga and Imperial Concubine Tran Thi Dung, who both got married twice to Kings or a King and a top mandarin acting as a regent. The former, the wife of a Dinh King, became a regent herself after the King was assassinated, as her son, the successor, was only eight months old. She dared to remarry Le Hoan, overcoming obstacles set by feudal norms, and gave top priority to the nation rather than her own royal family, following her heart. The latter, Tran Thi Dung, is less mentioned by historians, possibly a result of their feudal viewpoints and the lack of related historical documents. Dung was deeply in love with Tran Thu Do, who later held the high rank of Great Tutor in the Tran dynasty. However, knowing the then Ly dynasty’s King wanted her to be a consort, Do decided to sacrifice her love for the sake of the country. When the King died, Princess Ly Chieu Hoang inherited the throne. Dung discussed with Do the arrangement of establishing a new dynasty, persuading Ly Chieu Hoang to abdicate and hand over the throne to her husband Tran Canh, Do’s nephew. The Tran dynasty thus begun, replacing the Ly, who were no longer respected by the people.

Great contributions were made by the Tran dynasty to national defence and construction. Many of the contributions were closely linked to Dung and Do, who eventually got married.

Tran Thi Dung is now worshipped in Thien Huong cave, on the way to Thai Vi temple, in Ninh Hai commune, Hoa Lu district, Ninh Binh province. The name of the cave is literally translated as the "Heavenly Perfume", implying Dung’s bewitching beauties. And such beauties still linger, inherited by the imperial concubines’ offspring living in Vietnam in general and the capital of Hanoi in particular.

Ninh Binh, which is also known as the "inland Ha Long bay", is home to two out of seven to eight dynasties of the Dai Viet civilisation. Two talented and beautiful ladies who made great contributions to the successes of the dynasties and the country, were also born in the area. The imperial concubines and princesses also taught locals to weave, sew and knit, making bright red silk and creating songs, dances, and delicacies, which originated from the Thuong An area (former name of Ninh Binh) and were inherited, preserved and developed to this day in Hanoi./.

VOV - (17/02/2005)

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