For the millennium that it’s been the capital city of Viet Nam, Ha Noi has been under the protection of four tutelary gods, worshipped in four temples located in the four corners of the city. Tens of thousands of tourists and travellers visit these sites every year, according to figures from the Viet Nam National Administration of Tourism.
White knight: Quan Thanh Temple is famous for its poetic atmosphere and the famous bronze statue of Tran Vu.
Bach Ma (White Horse) Temple is located at 78-80 Hang Buom Street. Founded in the 9th century, there remains very little of the original thousand-year-old structure today. The present temple itself dates back to 18th and 19th century reconstruction work, and stands as one of the grandest temples in Ha Noi’s Old Quarter. It was originally named Long Do Temple, to venerate the hero.
Legend has it that when King Ly Thai To moved the capital from Hoa Lu in present day Ninh Binh Province to Thang Long (former name of Ha Noi), work on the citadel could not begin before the King himself prayed at the temple. After the ceremony, a white horse appeared from behind the altar. After running around the city, it flew off into the sky. The King decided to build the citadel in the horse’s footsteps. Long Do was then elevated to the position of a tutelary deity or protector of the city and people started referring to it as White Horse Temple.
Linh Lang, or Voi Phuc (Crouching Elephant) Temple is located inside the precinct of Thu Le Zoo. Linh Lang was the fourth son of King Ly Thai Tong, and was immortalised as one of the capital’s tutelary gods for his glorious victory over the northern invaders.
The temple recently underwent restoration and is now home to many traditional activities including an annual festival on the 11th day of lunar February. On that day, a statue of Linh Lang is ushered into the temple on a sedan chair carried by young men wearing light brown and red clothing. He is carried around an island that is situated in the middle of the zoo. In keeping with tradition, the speed and height at which the chair is carried must change from time to time, but the balance is maintained.
Standing on ceremony: Musical performances take place at the temple during the festival in the honour of the guardian of the city. (Photos: VNS)
Quan Thanh is a Taoist Temple. After many geographical changes to the city’s layout, it is now located on the corner of Quan Thanh and Thanh Nien street, facing the West Lake. Dating back to the 11th century, the temple is dedicated to Tran Vu, one of the principle deities of Taoism.
During its long history, the site has been renovated several times, most recently in 1893 when the principal gate and the shrine were rebuilt, giving the architecture a mixture of the many different styles of the imperial area. The main features of the temple are a large yard shaded by a giant banyan tree and a shrine that contains a famous bronze statue of Tran Vu built in 1677. The statue measures 3.96m in height, weighs around 3,600kg and depicts Tran Vu as a deity with his two symbolic animals, the serpent and the turtle.
With its history, architecture and location, Quan Thanh temple is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. It is also a training venue for several traditional martial arts including Vovinam.
Cao Son Temple is located in Kim Lien village, Tay Ho District. Cao Son has appeared not once but twice in the ancient legends of the country. On the first occasion, he helped Son Tinh (Mountain Genie) in his victorious battle against Thuy Tinh (Water Genie) and he was on hand again to help King Le Tuong Duc put down an outrageous revolt, reviving the Le dynasty.
Built on a mound overlooking Dong Lam Lake, the temple is a typical example of ancient architecture.
An annual festival is celebrated on the 16th of lunar March at Cao Son Temple. Among the many traditional games and activities that take place at the festival are bird fighting, a water see-saw and a cooking competition which takes place on boats.
The four tutelary gods of former royal capital Thang Long may have come from different times and beliefs, but have all been remembered and worshipped as heroes and protectors for over a thousand years by Hanoians. Their history may be contained in books filled with pages about wars, but the four sacred temples have always been there, giving their blessings to the people of the capital city.
In celebration of the 1,000th anniversary of Ha Noi, historical sites all over the capital city are receiving special care. Quan De Temple at 28 Hang Buom street in the Old Quarter recently underwent restoration. Although it is quite the youngster being only 200 years of age, the site had been gravely damaged by natural causes. However, when it was reopened to the public last month, "90 per cent of the original design was restored", said Pham Tuan Long, deputy head of the Ha Noi Old Quarter Management Department.
"It will act as a meeting place for local people, and an information centre to welcome visitors who are interested in the history of Ha Noi’s Old Quarter," Long said.
Re-opened in March, the centre will provide and promote activities to celebrate the city’s cultural heritage. It will also provide tourists and tour guides with information about the city, and in a city moving to modernisation at the speed that Ha Noi is, it is refreshing to know that cultural and traditional values are still appreciated, cherished and thriving.