Vietnam's capital Hanoi girds up to celebrate 1,000 years

Hanoi is planning major celebrations on 10/10/10 to mark the city's 1,000-year anniversary. The bill: more than $60 million.

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    People perform during the opening ceremony of the 10-day celebrations of the 1000th anniversary of the founding of Thang Long-Hanoi in Hanoi, Oct. 1.
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Vietnamese are preparing to celebrate 1,000 years of urban history.

The capital of the Viet Kingdom was moved to Hanoi in the year 1010. And while the exact date of that event is not known, Oct. 10 was the day that Hanoi was liberated from French colonial rule. And 10/10/10 not only has a nice ring, it multiplies out – conveniently – to 1,000.

Despite a deadly accident as preparations were under way in a stadium, as well as reports of a rising death toll from floods that devastated central Vietnam this week, the country is determined to go ahead with the celebration, on which it has spent more than $60 million.

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For a city that does not have much evidence of its longevity, the impressive ruins of Rome and Jerusalem – or even the Vietnamese city of Hue, that was the country’s capital in the 19th century – this celebration is more than hoopla; it is an effort to boost tourism and provoke a sense of nationalism among residents.

“Where is Hanoi’s birth certificate?” asked one skeptical resident. “The government wants to attract tourists, they want to [make it seem like] we have big history, big city, many great things, but they don’t have enough old documents to show they are serious about that.”

This week for the first time Vietnamese officials are allowing the public to view some objects that were unearthed in the archaeological dig across from Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. Located in the center of Hanoi, the site, which was accidentally discovered in 2002 during the construction of the new National Assembly building, was included in the World Heritage List by UNESCO this summer. The objects date back to the eighth century. The site reportedly contained more ceramics than any other place in Vietnam, as well as terracotta roofs and traces of ancient palaces and sewer systems.

Zan-Hee Oh, a program officer in UNESCO’s Hanoi Office, said the archaeological site proved Hanoi's age.

“It definitely does validate the fact that Hanoi is 1,000 years old,” she says. “The site starts many centuries ago and reaches to modern times and the Soviet era, so it has the potential to actually illustrate history in a way that is easily understandable for the average tourist.”

In honor of the anniversary, the first museum dedicated to the history of the city was opened, the first encyclopedia about Hanoi was written and an illustrated porcelain mural was recognized by Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s longest ceramic mural.

Also, there's more to it than just celebration, says Olivier Tessier, an assistant professor at the French School of Asian Studies (École Française d’Extrême-Orient) in Hanoi.

Professor Tessier is quick to point out that Vietnam hasn't forgotten the war between the North and South in the 1970s. The North is still troubled by the South's allegiance with the United States during the war, he says. The grand celebrations are a way for the North to assert dominance over the economic booming South Vietnamese city of Ho Chi Minh (formerly Saigon).

“Everyone manipulates history, arranges history in ways that suits them,” he says. “To say that Hanoi is 1,000 years old … will remind the South that the capital is Hanoi, the political capital of the country for 1,000 years.”

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