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Hanoi Flag Tower stands proud after 200 years

By Kieu Duong   February 22, 2019 | 04:30 am PT
At the heart of Vietnam’s capital stands a structure that survived both the French colonial and American wars.
Hanoi Flag Tower stands proud after 200 years

The Hanoi Flag Tower (also known as the Ky Dai) relic is in the complex of the Vietnam Military History Museum on Dien Bien Phu Street, Ba Dinh District.

Situated in the southern part of the Thang Long Citadel, it was built in 1805 and completed in 1812 during the reign of King Gia Long of the Nguyen Dynasty.

At its foot is a line of cannons installed by the Nguyen Dynasty in the 19th century, which were discovered around Thang Long Citadel in 2003.

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The tower is over 33 meters tall and comprises a basement and a place for lookouts on top.

Under the Nguyen Dynasty, during the Lunar New Year festival, the golden flag of the emperor would often fly at the top of the tower. It was also the place where the king examined and approved the recruitment of soldiers and their training.

It has survived the French and American wars unscathed, and is the most spectacular site at the Thang Long Citadel.

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Stairs leading up from the first level of the Hanoi Flag Tower to the second.

The structure is made of several types of bricks and stonefrom different eras. According to researchers, the first and second levels are built mainly with mallet bricks, which were typically used during the Le Dynasty (1428-1788). The third level is built of hard burnt bricks, while the body uses half-baked bricks.

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Doorways lead visitors around the second level of the tower.

There are four doors in the cardinal directions. Each has a name except the northern one: the eastern door is Nghinh Huc (early morning sunshine), the western one is Hoi Quang (reflected sunlight) and the southern is Huong Minh (toward the light).

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The stairs from the third level lead to the body of the tower. They have iron handrails.

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Foreign visitors climb to the second level of the tower.

Stephan Hauer, a German tourist, said: "I just arrived in Vietnam a day ago and the Flag Tower is the first site I am visiting. On the way from the airport to the hotel, I was impressed when I saw this old structure standing out on the skyline. I have not seen such works before. In Germany, they often fly flags on the roofs of buildings or watchtowers in castles."

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The Flag Tower seen from the third level.

It is octagonal and soars 18 m into the air, gradually tapering to the top. Visitors enter the column through the north face where the Chinese letters "Ky Dai" are etched above.

The tower has lights inside and 39 small flower-shaped windows and six fan-shaped windows. There are 54 spiral steps leading to the top but visitors are not allowed to go up. They can only climb as far as the third level.

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Like many other tourist destinations in Hanoi, the tower has been defaced by vandals with graffiti and carvings. Words can be seen in many languages including English and Korean, and the vandalism appears more and more as more visitors come to the site.

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A rosette carving on the side of the tower.

On May 7, 1964, the 10th anniversary of the historic Dien Bien Phu victory over the French colonialists, Hanoi changed the name of the street where the tower stands from Cot Co (Flag Tower) to Dien Bien Phu.

The Dien Bien Phu battle occurred between March and May 1954 and culminated in a comprehensive French defeat that influenced negotiations that were underway in Geneva among several nations over the future of Indochina.

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The historical structure attracts many tourists and photo buffs. The balcony area in particular is crowded during national holidays.

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At the foot of the Flag Tower is an outdoor display area of the Vietnam Military History Museum.

A little further to the left is the Thang Long Citadel, a 13-century-old world cultural heritage. Admission to the Flag Tower is free. But visitors have to pay an entrance fee at the museum gate at 28A Dien Bien Phu.

The museum is open on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 8 am - 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.- 4:30 p.m. Tickets cost VND20,000 ($0.86). Visitors have to buy an additional ticket for VND30,000 ($1.3) for taking pictures.

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