airport_transferbarbathtubbusiness_facilitieschild_activitieschildcareconnecting_roomcribsfree_wifigymhot_tubinternetkitchennon_smokingpetpoolresturantski_in_outski_shuttleski_storagesmoking_areaspastar
Sign In
A Guide to Vietnam's Hoa Lu Ancient Citadel
Save to wishlist

A Guide to Vietnam's Hoa Lu Ancient Citadel

Picture of Katie Kalmusky
Updated: 15 March 2018
This former capital of Vietnam lies 90 km south of Hanoi, protected by high limestone mountains and earthen walls. Hoa Lu is the beautiful ancient city that was the economic and political center of Dai Co Viet, a kingdom that extended from what is now northern Vietnam to the center during the 10th and 11th centuries.
SCTP0075-PHAM-VIETNAM-NINHBINH-HOALU_ANCIENTCAPITAL_7947
Vu Pham Van / | © Culture Trip

An ancient city

For a county’s capital city, Hoa Lu was a natural geographic choice because of the limestone mountains keeping the city well-hidden from potential invaders. Even today, most of the mountains surrounding Hoa Lu are accessible only to the mountain goats! Northwest of the city is bordered by the Hoang Long River, which also runs through the citadel. It cooled the city in the sticky summer months and provided a convenient waterway for trade and other businesses.

SCTP0075-PHAM-VIETNAM-NINHBINH-HOALU_ANCIENTCAPITAL_7948
Vu Pham Van / | © Culture Trip
SCTP0075-PHAM-VIETNAM-NINHBINH-HOALU_ANCIENTCAPITAL_7953
Vu Pham Van / | © Culture Trip

To further fortify the citadel, inhabitants constructed walls around the city using wooden planks and piling earth around them. Historians estimate the walls reached 10-15 meters high and just as many meters thick. Several sections of the wall have been excavated and preserved by archaeologists.

SCTP0075-PHAM-VIETNAM-NINHBINH-HOALU_ANCIENTCAPITAL_8028
Vu Pham Van / | © Culture Trip
SCTP0075-PHAM-VIETNAM-NINHBINH-HOALU_ANCIENTCAPITAL_9168
Vu Pham Van / | © Culture Trip

Hoa Lu never had to test its natural defenses – it did not come under attack during the years it served as the capital city. An army from what is now southern Vietnam attempted to invade, but was defeated before they could make their way too far north.

SCTP0075-PHAM-VIETNAM-NINHBINH-HOALU_ANCIENTCAPITAL_8033
Vu Pham Van / | © Culture Trip
SCTP0075-PHAM-VIETNAM-NINHBINH-HOALU_ANCIENTCAPITAL_8035
Vu Pham Van / | © Culture Trip

Homage to Emperors

Hoa Lu was founded by Dinh Tien Hoang (previously known as Dinh Bo Linh), the first Emporer of Vietnam. Before he took the throne, there were 12 warlords all competing to reign over the northern kingdom. Dinh defeated his competitors and unified the kingdom under his rule in 968 A.D.

SCTP0075-PHAM-VIETNAM-NINHBINH-HOALU_ANCIENTCAPITAL_8040
The picturesque limestone mountains form a jagged horizon with muddy rice paddies laying at the base. Vu Pham Van / | © Culture Trip
SCTP0075-PHAM-VIETNAM-NINHBINH-HOALU_ANCIENTCAPITAL_8041
Vu Pham Van / | © Culture Trip

Hoa Lu thrived during the Dinh and following Le dynasties until the founder of the Ly dynasty, Ly Cong Uan, transferred the capital to what is now Hanoi in 1010. Hoa Lu was thus abandoned and succumbed to natural deterioration, leaving few pieces to be unearthed by archaeologists. There are very little authentic remains of Hoa Lu; the citadel was rebuilt in the 17th century, modeled after the original temples and courtyards.

SCTP0075-PHAM-VIETNAM-NINHBINH-HOALU_ANCIENTCAPITAL_8042
Vu Pham Van / | © Culture Trip
SCTP0075-PHAM-VIETNAM-NINHBINH-HOALU_ANCIENTCAPITAL_8056
Vu Pham Van / | © Culture Trip

The temples were built to commemorate various Emperors of Hoa Lu and their families. There are several dozen monuments and temples honouring various Vietnamese royals, while around these temples, modern businesses run and modern Vietnamese go about their daily lives.

SCTP0075-PHAM-VIETNAM-NINHBINH-HOALU_ANCIENTCAPITAL_8065
Vu Pham Van / | © Culture Trip
SCTP0075-PHAM-VIETNAM-NINHBINH-HOALU_ANCIENTCAPITAL_8067
Vu Pham Van / | © Culture Trip
SCTP0075-PHAM-VIETNAM-NINHBINH-HOALU_ANCIENTCAPITAL_8100
Vu Pham Van / | © Culture Trip
SCTP0075-PHAM-VIETNAM-NINHBINH-HOALU_ANCIENTCAPITAL_8072
Vu Pham Van / | © Culture Trip

The legend of Princess Kim

Close to Nhat Tru Pagoda lies a small temple dedicated to Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang’s daughter, Phat Kim. The princess’ hand in marriage was given to one of Dinh Tien Hoang’s favored court officials. When the princess and official were married, they left Hoa Lu to join the southern kingdom of Champa (now south Vietnam).

SCTP0075-PHAM-VIETNAM-NINHBINH-HOALU_ANCIENTCAPITAL_8080
Nhat Tru Pagoda. Vu Pham Van / | © Culture Trip

The princess returned one year later to the fury of her father, who imprisoned her for treason. She was eventually sent to Nhat Tru Pagoda to be a nun and live the rest of her life carrying the pain her departure cast on her family. When Dinh was assassinated in 979, Princess Kim committed suicide by jumping into a well near the pagoda. After her death, the well was dedicated to her.

SCTP0075-PHAM-VIETNAM-NINHBINH-HOALU_ANCIENTCAPITAL_8052
Intricate designs inside Nhat Tru Pagoda. Vu Pham Van / | © Culture Trip
SCTP0075-PHAM-VIETNAM-NINHBINH-HOALU_ANCIENTCAPITAL_8083
Vu Pham Van / | © Culture Trip
SCTP0075-PHAM-VIETNAM-NINHBINH-HOALU_ANCIENTCAPITAL_8111
A small pagoda in Hoa Lu against the backdrop of limestone mountains. Vu Pham Van / | © Culture Trip

Truong Yen Festival

In the third month of the Lunar New Year, Hoa Lu holds an impressive festival commemorating its reign from 968-1010 A.D. There is a large procession beginning at Hoang Long river that crosses the citadel and ends at the temples of Dinh Tien Hoang and Le Dai Hanh, the first and last Emperor who reigned ancient Vietnam from Hoa Lu. The festival also includes plays (usually about Dinh Tien Hoang), contests (chess is a favorite), games and a fair.

SCTP0075-PHAM-VIETNAM-NINHBINH-HOALU_ANCIENTCAPITAL_7960
Vu Pham Van / | © Culture Trip
SCTP0075-PHAM-VIETNAM-NINHBINH-HOALU_ANCIENTCAPITAL_7970
Vu Pham Van / | © Culture Trip

Hoa Lu is a very convenient stop en route from Hue to Hanoi, but day trips can easily be arranged from Hanoi. A visit to this beautiful piece of Vietnamese history also pairs well with a sight-seeing trek to other scenic places in Ninh Binh province.

SCTP0075-PHAM-VIETNAM-NINHBINH-HOALU_ANCIENTCAPITAL_8015
Vu Pham Van / | © Culture Trip
SCTP0075-PHAM-VIETNAM-NINHBINH-HOALU_ANCIENTCAPITAL_7977
Vu Pham Van / | © Culture Trip

You can catch breathtaking views of the ancient capital by hiking up one of the small mountains surrounding the citadel.

SCTP0075-PHAM-VIETNAM-NINHBINH-HOALU_ANCIENTCAPITAL_7985
An offering of incense, fruit and flowers to the ancestors. Vu Pham Van / | © Culture Trip
SCTP0075-PHAM-VIETNAM-NINHBINH-HOALU_ANCIENTCAPITAL_7987
Vu Pham Van / | © Culture Trip
SCTP0075-PHAM-VIETNAM-NINHBINH-HOALU_ANCIENTCAPITAL_8011
Vu Pham Van / | © Culture Trip

Hoa Lu is a beautiful spot to soak in some ancient Vietnamese history and admire the stunning natural scenery surrounding the citadel.