|Local people in Ninh Binh held a festival in Hoa Lu last year to celebrate the 1,044th anniversary since Dinh Bo Linh was crowned as Emperor and established the country as Dai Co Viet (Great Viet). — VNA Photo Anh Tuan
by Hoang Trung Hieu
The capital city has been moved many times in the history of Viet Nam. In 1010, when King Ly Thai To changed the capital from Hoa Lu in the northern province of Ninh Binh to Thang Long (Ha Noi), the move heralded a new, brighter period in the country's development.
Though Ninh Binh is no longer the country's political heart, it is still a land of historical depth and an ideal tourist destination, with famous sites including Tam Coc-Bich Dong landscape, the Trang An caves, Bai Dinh Pagoda, Cuc Phuong National Park and Phat Diem Stone Church.
Traces of history can be found everywhere in the ancient capital of Hoa Lu in Truong Yen Commune, Hoa Lu District.
Hoa Lu, which literally means "Flowers of Reeds", was the capital city of the Dinh dynasty (968-980) and the Tien Le (Early-Le) dynasty (980-1009). The Ly dynasty (1010-1225) was also formed in this capital city.
Our first stop was the temple for King Dinh Tien Hoang (whose real name was Dinh Bo Linh), who built the Hoa Lu capital and set up the first centralised feudal State in Viet Nam. We also planned to see a nearby temple dedicated to the founder of the Tien Le dynasty, King Le Dai Hanh (Le Hoan).
The Hoa Lu capital existed for only 41 years, from 968 to 1009. The first 12 years were the Dinh dynasty. Dinh Bo Linh was crowned King Dinh Tien Hoang and named the country Dai Co Viet (Great Viet). The next 29 years were the Tien Le dynasty.
Though the time is very short compared to the nation's history of thousands of years, the ancient capital marks a splendid historical moment. During the Dinh and Le dynasties, feudal Viet Nam was as powerful, and Vietnamese people completely defeated an invasion by the Chinese Song dynasty.
Archaeological excavations proved that during its heyday, Hoa Lu was a magnificent royal citadel covering 300ha. Endless mountains and the Hoang Long River, which surrounded the capital city, protected the city as well as a military fortress.
After King Ly Thai To moved the capital from Hoa Lu to Thang Long, local people built temples for the former kings Dinh Tien Hoang and Le Dai Hanh to express gratefulness to them. The two temples are only 500m apart.
Temples for Two Kings The temple for King Dinh Tien Hoang is surrounded by ancient trees, orchards and ornamental trees which intermingle to create a solemn scene. Entering the temple, we were attracted by the unique style of wood and stone carving done by Vietnamese artisans in the 17th-19th centuries.
In front of the temple sits a large stone bed. Its face has the carved image of a dragon, with a claw holding its beard.
Walking on the main path, we passed two big columns and entered the san rong (dragon yard). Perhaps this was the place where the King gave audience to his mandarins. In the middle of the yard sits a stone bed, 1.8m long and 1.4m wide. On the two sides of the bed, there are two unicorns made of two entire green rocks.
In the middle of the main sanctum, the bronze statue of King Dinh Tien Hoang sits on a greenrock platform.
The left chamber is devoted to the King's first son, Dinh Lien. The King's other sons, Dinh Toan and Dinh Hang Lang, are worshipped at a chamber on the right.
"Standing at this temple, we felt surrounded by the natural wall made of a lotus pond on the east side and a single mountain on the west side," said Nguyen Van Quan, a visitor from Bac Ninh Province.
According to legend, King Dinh Tien Hoang chose Ma Yen Mountain to be the front protector for the palaces in the capital's citadel.
The mountain is also the front protector for the King Dinh Temple. Legend says that after the King died, the court made 99 coffins and brought them to the mountain.
Symbolically, this meant that even though he had died, he continued to be "on the horse's back," as he was famous for riding bravely into battle. He was later honoured by the court officials as Dai Thang Minh Hoang De (Emperor of Great Victory).
The mountain foot forms a deep space which looks like a king's throne. The mausoleum of King Le Dai Hanh is located in the middle of that giant throne.
Locals said perhaps ancient people wanted to express that, although the King had died, he still reigned on his throne. Both mausoleums were restored in 1840 during the reign of King Minh Mang (Nguyen dynasty).
Leaving the King Dinh Temple, we walked to visit the temple for King Le Dai Hanh and Queen Duong Van Nga. She was King Dinh's wife, but after he died, she had to cede the throne to Le Hoan (King Le Dai Hanh) to fortify the country to cope with an invasion by the Chinese Song dynasty.
On the road to the temple, we saw a large rock-work, 3m high, with the images of a dancing phoenix, a rookery and a reclining tiger, close to an old tree aged more than 300 years old. Some other rock-works feature images of a kneeling elephant, a phoenix incubating its eggs and a long ma (a creature that is half dragon, half horse).
The statue of King Le Dai Hanh sits in the middle of the main sanctum. On his left sits the statue of King Le Long Dinh (the fifth son of King Le Dai Hanh), while the statue of Queen Duong Van Nga is on the right.
Like the decorations in King Dinh Temple, the temple of King Le is built in the wooden style of the 17th century, which was very polished and refined.
In the large lawn in the middle of the two temples, locals have formed a small market that sells ornamental plants and rock-works. Each costs about 100,000-200,000, although tourists can attempt to bargain.
Nguyen Thi Ninh, 28, said her husband made rock-works and shaped ornamental plants for her to sell at the market.
"Ninh Binh is home to rocky mountains, so each small rockwork reminds visitors to remember our homeland," she says.
"Serving tourists brings us some extra money that supplements our income from farming."
Not far from the two temples is a memorial stele house for King Ly Thai To, inaugurated on September 29, 2000, on the celebration of the 990th anniversary of the capital's shift from Hoa Lu to Thang Long.
Tourists should understand the historical significance of the ancient capital, said visitor Bich Thuan, a teacher from Ha Noi.
"The move from Hoa Lu to Thang Long was an indispensable step towards national development," she said. "King Dinh Tien
Hoang unified the country and King Le Dai Hanh gallantly succeeded him, forming a solid foundation for King Ly Thai To. So we Hanoians told each other that we should visit the Hoa Lu ancient citadel to remember our ancestral kings and better understand our history."