A brief history of Son Tay citadel

According to the book "Đại Nam Nhất Thống Chí, during the Lê Trung Hưng dynasty, the Lê-Trịnh government already constructed the Sơn Tây citadel. Its location was in La Phẩm commune, Tiên Phong district, Quảng Oai prefecture (now part of Tản Hồng commune, Ba Vì district). Around the reign of Cảnh Hưng (1740-1786), to avoid floods, the citadel was relocated to Mông Phụ commune, Phúc Thọ district, Quốc Oai prefecture (now part of Đường Lâm commune, Sơn Tây town). In the early years of Gia Long's reign of the Nguyễn dynasty, the Sơn Tây citadel remained in its original position. In the third year of Minh Mạng's reign (1822), the citadel was moved to the locations of two communes, Thuần Nghệ and Mai Trai, which are now situated in the center of present-day Sơn Tây town, including the Quang Trung, Ngô Quyền, and Lê Lợi wards.

Throughout the 19th century, the ancient Sơn Tây citadel served as an important stronghold in the western area of Hanoi. Significant events related to the citadel were linked to the resistance against the French by the Nguyễn dynasty and historical figures of Vietnam at that time, such as Governor Hoàng Kế Viêm and the General of the Black Flag army Liu Yongfu during the periods of 1872 and 1883. In 1883, the French army attacked the citadel, defeated the Black Flag, and occupied the stronghold.

On May 16, 1924, the Indochinese authorities issued a decree to classify the Sơn Tây ancient citadel as a historical monument.

On October 15, 1994, the Ministry of Culture and Information issued Decision No. 2757QĐ/BT, designating it as a historical architectural relic.

The citadel’s layout

The structure and scale of the citadel of Son Tay has been recorded in ancient documents. According to the "Đại Nam Nhất Thống Chí" (Complete Annals of Dai Nam), the citadel was built with masonry in 1822. In the second year of Emperor Tu Duc's reign (1849), agate stone was used to construct the walls and the moat. The dimensions of the citadel were recorded as follows: a perimeter of 326 trượng 2 thước, a height of 1 trượng 11 thước, and four gates. The moat had a perimeter of 448 trượng, a width of 6 trượng 7 thước, and a depth of 1 thước (1 thước = 4 meters, 1 trượng = 40 cm)

The scale and structure of the Hành Cung (local imperial residence) building were strictly regulated by the Nguyen dynasty. According to the "Khâm Định Đại Nam hội điển sự lệ" (Encyclopedia of the History of Dai Nam), during the first year of Minh Mang's reign (1820), it was decreed that each residence should have a central main building with five intercolumniations and two wings. The front of the main building is flanked on both sides by buildings with five intercolumniations and two wings, while the rear includes the two kitchen buildings on the left and right sides, each with three intercolumniations and two wings. The long buildings on both sides should have five intercolumniations. The surrounding areas were enclosed with military barracks on the perimeter.

In the 13th year of Minh Mạng's reign (1832), there was a standardized proposal for the provinces and districts that originally had a Hành Cung (temporary imperial residence). Provinces that originally had a Hành Cung and districts that were originally granted the authority to move would continue to follow the old style. Later on, new constructions would be built following the previous model, which was given to Ninh Bình province as an example. It consisted of a a three-intercolumniations, two-wing structure with ironwood pillars and beams, and sturdy wooden rafters and walls. In the 16th year of Minh Mạng's reign (1835), it was mentioned that the Hành Cung in Hanoi had been partially dismantled, and the structures on both sides of the palace in the front courtyard had also been removed. Currently, the Hành Cung in Sơn Tây province has seriously degraded, therefore Son Tay province may construct a palace building. As a consequence, the unearthed archaeological foundation may belong to the Hành Cung built and repaired during the reign of Minh Mạng, most likely between the 13th (1832) and 16th (1835) years of his reign.

The book "Khâm Định Đại Nam hội điển sự lệ" states: "In the 4th year of Gia Long's reign (1805), it was standardized that each province and district should have three government halls, with each building having three intercolumniations and two wings. In the 13th year of Minh Mang's reign (1832), it was proposed that a provincial capital is where the entire province looks up to, thus it should show consistency in buildings. Except for the districts that already had palaces and had previously been relocated, they should remain as they were. Furthermore, from now on, if there are new constructions, they should follow the following implementation method. The Governor-General's Hall should have a three- intercolumniations, two-wing building, and the kitchen should have two- intercolumniations, two-wings, with the dimensions similar to the residences of the six ministers. The magistrates’ and judges’ residences should have a three- intercolumniations, two-wings building, and the kitchen should have a one- intercolumniations, two-wing structure, with the dimensions similar to the residences of the six ministries’ deputies. The offices of the magistrates and judges both should have five intercolumniations, following the style of the bureaus in the six ministries. The Provincial Military Commander Hall should have three- intercolumniations, two-wings, following the style of the office of the imperial guard unit Vũ Lâm.

Over time, only the foundations and some agate stone from the moat of the ancient citadel of Son Tay remain. However, its historical and cultural value still holds significant importance compared to many other ancient citadels from the Nguyễn dynasty.


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Document photo

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Source: Institute of Archeology


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