Vietnam has a rich and ancient imperial history dating back thousands of years over countless dynasties. Vietnam has a number of ancient citadels, fortresses and military outposts. Traveling through the country you are sure to see many of them along the way. Here’s our guide to the citadels of Vietnam.
Hue Imperial City
Probably the most famous citadel in all of Vietnam, the Imperial city of Hue was the home to the Nguyen Dynasty and the capital of Vietnam during the 19th century. It’s large 10 km enclosure makes this one of the largest citadels on our list. Visit the public grounds of the enclosure and then take a tour of the imperial grounds. Within the imperial grounds the emperor and his family resided. In the museum you can see digital reconstructions of the city and see a video of an enthronement ceremony from 1926.
Son Tay Citadel
Technically a suburb or satellite city of Hanoi, Son Tay is a short 45 minute drive west of the capital. Just outside the city center you’ll find Son Tay Citadel. An old military outpost, Son Tay Citadel was strategically located along the Red River to stave off any possible invasions from the north. Today it serves as a park popular among locals. You will often find locals here on weekends walking through the forest along the moat.
If you have some time to spare in Hanoi, consider our Red River loop day trip seeing the Son Tay citadel along the way.
Thang Long Imperial Citadel (Hanoi Citadel)
Built in 1010 this citadel was the seat of the high court for most of the millennium until the Nguyen dynasty moved the capital to Hue. The Hanoi Citadel is an important part of Vietnamese history and an absolute must see when in Hanoi. During French colonial rule, many of the ancient structures were destroyed. However varying phases of renovation have been underway for years. In addition there are ongoing excavation projects which have revealed foundations of ancient palaces and countless artifacts.
Co Loa Citadel
Located about 16 km northeast of Hanoi city center, this ancient citadel dates back to 200 BCE. A natural moat using the Red River and its estuaries surrounds the citadel. This was an important fortification until 1010 when the Hanoi citadel was built. A drive out here will take about 30 minutes but is worth it if you want to delve deep into some of Vietnam’s oldest history.
Quang Tri Citadel
Located north of Hue in Quang Tri Province, Quang Tri Citadel was built in 1824 as a military base. An example of Vauban architecture, you will find similar structures in Alsace France. In addition to being a powerful military installation, Quang Tri quickly became an economic and administrative hub for the Nguyen Dynasty.
Quang Tri citadel is perhaps most famous for its role in the Vietnam war. In 1972, the US and South Vietnam attempted to capture the citadel resulting in an unsuccessful 81 day siege. Heavy artillery shelling took place and much of the citadel was destroyed. The citadel underwent major restoration and today you can explore the grounds and visit the memorial to the Vietnamese who lost their lives here during the siege of 1972. Quang Tri citadel has become an important part of modern Vietnamese history. With its popularity among domestic tourists increasing, local tourists come here to pay tribute and celebrate an important victory in the war.
Ho Dynasty Citadel
Located in Thanh Hóa Province, this citadel has an interesting yet turbulent history. The Ho Dynasty was a short lived dynasty which reigned from 1400 – 1407 ending with the invasion of the Ming Empire and 20 years of Chinese rule. Ho Quy Ly, a high ranking advisor, commissioned the citadel on behalf of emperor Tran Thuan Tong in 1397. When the emperor later visited in 1399, Ho Quy Ly had him executed, declaring himself the new emperor in 1400. Afterwards, the citadel became the capital of the new Ho empire.
Today there is not much left of the ancient capital apart from the walls of the citadels. Within the citadel are rice fields and farmland in an area which once would’ve been teeming with the hustle and bustle of an imperial city 5 centuries ago. There is a small museum at the site of the citadel with some ancient artifacts. In addition, a visit to the museum will provide you some background information on the feudal period this citadel was built in.
To find out more, be sure to see our guide on Thanh Hoa Province