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Things to see in Hanoi - Museums

The History Museum

Situated at # 1 Trang Tien Street, behind Hanoi's Municipal Theater, this museum was originally part of the Vien Dong Bac Co School that was founded in 1932 by the French. At that time, the museum exhibited a collection of ancient artifacts collected from all over southeast Asia.

In 1958, four years after the French lost control of Indochina, France gave the building to Vietnam and it became the national History Museum. Both floors of the museum house thousands of artifacts displayed in order of age, from ancient to contemporary. In the Stone Age section, you'll find tools and instruments for hunting and fighting made of polished stone, evidence of pre-historic ancestors living in present-day Vietnam. Included are stone axes chipped three to four hundred thousand years ago that were unearthed at Do Mountain in Thanh Hoa province, proof that the country is a cradle of civilization.

The Bronze Age section of the museum is famous for its bronze drums, the most notable of which is Ngoc Lu's majestic and beautiful drum which has been studied by scholars from all over the world for its implications on sculpture, its use and the manufacturing technology of its time. Also on exhibit are bronze axes, javelins, daggers, spears and other bronze weapons used for close range and distance fighting, weapons from the period of the Hung kings, during which Vietnam was first founded and Co Loa's 2nd century BC thin and thorny bronze arrows which so frightened northern invaders that they gained a reputation for being magical.

For the past 2,000 years, Vietnam's history has been a continuous struggle against foreign invaders. The museum's many photographs of pagodas, temples, fortresses, gravesites, famous figures and generals and many important documents, well known sayings and artifacts convey the indomitable will of the people.

The Revolutionary Museum

This was built after a 1954 decision of the government council in the wake of victory over France's occupation and the return of Hanoi to Vietnam. Objects were collected throughout the north and on January 6, 1959, the Revolutionary Museum was officially opened.

The building chosen for the museum site was originally that of the Commercial Department located on Tran Quang Khai Street with the building's back side on Tong Dan Street. The building was renovated to house twenty-nine rooms and displays over 40,000 items. With the exception of the first room (dedicated to a general introduction of the country and people) and the last room (dedicated to world solidarity extended to Vietnam), the museum's exhibits concern the reunification and the people's struggles against French colonialism, Japanese fascism and the capitalistic United States.

The collection includes memorabilia of the revolutionary activities of Uncle Ho and other leaders; the Communist Party magazines and newspapers including rare and valuable publications of the period between 1920 and 1945; the country's different flags including the 1930s Party flag, the 1941 field and yellow star; weapons including knives used by the Nghe An Red Guard in 1930, rifles used by the Bac Son guerillas in 1941, crossbows used by the people of Tra Bong during their rebellion in 1958 and a rocket pad used to down US bombers in Hanoi in December 1972.

The Ho Chi Minh Museum

This is located to the right of Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum on One Pillar Pagoda Street off Hung Vuong Street. According to the museum's designers, the building is in the shape of a lotus flower, symbolizing the lofty morality of President Ho Chi Minh. The building stands about thirty yards tall and has a basement that contains equipment and a workshop and a second floor of studies, a library and conference halls.

The museum's two main floors contain the museum area and exhibition halls. The 13,000 square meter exhibition floor is the focal point of the museum. A solemn room in the floor's center displays a standing effigy of Ho Chi Minh and documents, artistic photographs and pieces of work that show the important involvement of Ho Chi Minh in relation to the people and revolution of his country. The outer ring of the floor focuses on the links between Vietnam's revolution and the rest of the world.

The museum began formal construction on August 31, 1985 and was officially opened on May 19, 1990, the hundredth anniversary of Ho Chi Minh's birth.

The Army Museum

Located on Dien Bien Phu Street, the Army Museum was opened on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the founding of the People's Army (December 15, 1959). The compound that houses the museum was originally constructed as French military barracks and the space was renovated to its current 2,000 square meters of exhibition area.

The contents of the museum concentrate on the historical events relating to the Vietnam People's Army and its fighting tradition against foreign invaders. The variety includes the rudimentary weapons used by the salvation armies set up during the pre-war resistance such as the Propaganda and Liberation Army, founded December 22, 1944. The first records of this army made an important contribution to the establishment of the Viet Bac Liberated Zone, the first glimpse of a free Vietnam.

The growth of the salvation army during the post-August revolution and of the Vietnam People's Army is represented with a number of commemorative objects; weapons, maps, documentation of strategic and field decisions and sand tables of major attacks with special attention reserved for the Dien Bien Phu campaign. Objects and documents concerning the war with the United States are also on display in this museum.

Historical objects are also found here such as a bicycle used at Dien Bien Phu, Mig 19 and 21 jet fighters, SAM 2 and 3 rockets which smashed the supremacy of the US Air Force, simple bamboo spikes and the tank of the engineering contingent which rolled through Saigon to liberate it on April 30, 1975.

The Museum of Art

Located at 66 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, the Museum of Art opened to visitors on June 24, 1966. Here patrons can study the evolution of Vietnam's architecture, sculpture, drawing and fine arts. Many original works of art, some of which have been restored, as well as reproductions are exhibited. There are stone axe blades, stone sculptures, statues and ornaments, wooden statues, silk and lacquer paintings, Dong Ho and Hang Trong folk paintings, Hmong skirt belts, Tay brocades, silver rings, Tay Nguyen bronze rings and other objects that speak of the civilization, talented artists and optimistic, healthy visions of ancestral lineage and the people of today. Visitors are able to see works of art dating back to the stone and bronze ages, stone rings, earrings and necklaces, all 2-3,000 years old, bronze statues, drums and ornaments. Among items on exhibit are works spanning from the Ly to the Tran dynasties from seven to eight centuries ago when Vietnam arts reached a peak in architecture and sculpture.

Works of art produced over Vietnam's history have maintained the Dai Viet's traditions through their evolving forms. These can be observed especially in the exhibit on the Le, Tay Son and Nguyen Dynasties, which show architectural models and drawings. Sculptural masterpieces include the one-thousand-hands-one-thousand eyes Quan Su Buddhist statue of the But Thap Pagoda and the Le Han statue of the Tay Phuong Pagoda. Also of interest are the sculptures from the pagodas that portray typical folklore style, depicting the simple daily lives of the ancient peoples and works of Vietnamese painters during the French occupation. All of these bespeak of the ability to absorb western European technology and artistic methods while continuing to develop the artistic traditions indigenous to the country. Silk and oil paintings are also on display as examples of art from this time period. The works of Ngoc Van, Nguyen Phan Chanh and numerous other contemporary painters have been categorized as valuable relics of the Vietnamese arts. The museum also exhibits works of the innovative art of lacquer painting that grew into drawings and rich illustrations done in lacquer, an art form whose introduction is attributed to Nguyen Gia Tri.

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Excerpted from Hanoi: Past and Present by Nguyen Vinh Phuc, The Gioi Publishers, Hanoi, 1995

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Published on 12/7/03

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