People from all around converged to Thang Long – Hanoi for knowledge exchange and competition with each other, making the uniqueness of Hanoian in fashions, connoisseurs, gourmets, and well –skilled in.
According to old records and documents, the most bustling area of old Hanoi was Tho Xuong district (Hoan Kiem and Hai Ba Trung districts nowadays), also well known as the Old Quarter. Shops of merchants and craftsmans stood closely together forming street lines on which people sold only one type of products. These streets were also named after the products' names. This notion wass also depicted in the following folk-poem with 36 merchant guilds of Hanoi.
"Rủ nhau chơi khắp Long Thành
Ba mươi sáu phố rành rành chẳng sai.
Hàng Bồ, Hàng Bạc, Hàng Gai
Hàng Buồm, Hàng Thiếc, Hàng Bài, Hàng Khay
Mã Vĩ, Hàng Điếu, Hàng Giầy
Hàng Lờ, Hàng Cót, Hàng Mây, Hàng Đàn
Phố mới Phúc Kiến, Hàng Ngang
Hàng Mã, Hàng Mắm, Hàng Than, Hàng Đồng
Hàng Muối, Hàng Nón, Cầu Đông
Hàng Hòm, Hàng Đậu, Hàng Bông, Hàng Bè
Hàng Thùng, Hàng Bát, Hàng Tre
Hàng Vôi, Hàng Giấy, Hàng The, Hàng Gà
Qua đi đến phố Hàng Da
Trải xem phường phố thật là cũng xinh
Phồn hoa thứ nhất Long Thành
Phố giăng mắc cửi đường quanh bàn cờ."
Merchants and craftsmans lived scatteredly in all over the streets. Some lavish streets such as Ma May had gathered many Chinese dealers. The roads were covered by tiles with a bit higher in the middle and a bit lower along two sides to flush out drainage or sewage water.
Every street was separated by big and thick wall - constructed gates with the width of road surface, and securely closed at night.
The Old Quarter becomes an important and integral part in the capital's development history, as well as a pride, passionate and deep concern of all residents of Vietnam thanks for the huge in-building historical, cultural, art, and architectural heritage systems.
Years ago, residential areas along the Red river sides congregated as small villages. In the 5th century (454 – 456) under the Chinese domination, one of these areas developed and formed a small district named Tong Binh. Thousand years passed by, beginning as a small sized village of Viet, it has become an over-3-million people city and the headquater of politics, national defense, culture, and economy of Vietnam. From Tong Binh to Hanoi nowadays, there was a complicated urbanization process under large space and scale.
Under the feudal ages, Hanoi became a central government of the country soon as the oppressor Cao Bien expanded Dai La citadel in 866 and located here a Chinese oppression headquater. Nevertheless, Hanoi became the capital of Dai Viet only in 1010 when Ly Cong Uan, also known as Ly Thai To – the first king of Ly dynasty, moved the imperial capital from Hoa Lu to Dai La.
Hanoi Old Quarter is an unique architectural cluster, heavily influenced by Viet national character. The Quarter also has typical characteristics of traditional craft production areas. The place also hosts many routine events: living, selling, producing, festivaling, relaxing, entertaining, which all together create the Old Quarter's full vitality for conservation and development.
Talking about the history of the Old Quarter of Hanoi, the factor is expressed as an important element of human ecology, social ecology. Under the Ly and Tran dynasties, Hanoi's Old Quarter consisted of many merchant guilds among the 61 precincts at that time. In the Le dynasty, at the beginning of 16th century, Hanoi used to be Dong Kinh, where many merchants converged to start their businesses at 36 guilds, gradually forming the Old Quarter known as today. Along with its historical popularity, the Old Quarter was also considered as an unforgettable space stamping a well-rounded city life with its socio- economy,customs and tradition. Guild is an organization (available only in Thang Long), also equivalent to commune/village in rural area. It is the place where people live and work with the same craft trade. Besides dye, weave, paper making, bronze cast, forge and ceramics, Hanoi was famous at money moulding (steel and ore coins), shipbuilding, weapon and palanquin producing.
Long ago, the Old Quarter was developed in many-lakes-and-rivers terrain. The area was covered by To Lich river in the north, Red river in the east, and Hoan Kiem lake in the south. The first market and residence were located at the intersection of To Lich river and Red river. To Lich's estuary used to be a quay with many channels scattering within the Old Quarter.
Since the 7th century, Kinh Thanh area had been renamed as Trung Do including of two districts with total of 36 guilds. Majority of streets and Tho Xuong district were merchant. Also, many temples and pagodas were constructed in this period. From the 17th to 19th century a market network had been established. Residential areas and trade guilds concentrated in the East of the city.
Hanoi welcomed foreign travelers and business from Netherland and UK in the 17th century. Majority of foreign merchants were Chinese.
After the French conquest, Hanoi planning started changing, especially in the Old Quarter. The roads were reshaped and equipped with sewage system, paverments, alsphalt covered and street lights. Along streets, houses was constructed with bricks and tiled roofs. Next to the acient tiled roof houses of three elevated edges there were houses with European style front.
After 1954, due to the economic transformation policy for private capital, production development policy and economic policy subsidized by the Government through a chain of the state department stores and service points, the entire busy and blustling Old Quarter was turned in to a merely residental area (1960-1983), its redidents become staff and workers for the city cooperative and collective units. Many front houses were refixed with just door and windows, the street became serene. The streets bustled in times and usually at shift working hours; the excitement was seen in the market area, the department stores, specialized stores of the State and of the cooperatives (such as Dong Xuan Market, Hang Da market, ...).The population of the Old Quarter gradually increased encroaching vacant space of the courtyards. A lot of temples and pagodas were turned into workplace and residence. A number of traditional crafts were fading into oblivion, and the spiritual culture was lulled down.
Since 1986 up to now, the Old Quarter has changed from subsidized economy to market economy through the open policies in the economy and international relations, expansion of economic sectors in the country and encouraging all strata in construction and development of socio-economic and cultural development. The Old Quarter was gradually restored its former glory. Front houses were reconstructed and rennovated. A lot of temples and pagodas were restored, thus bringing back its spiritual atmosphere. Besides, the bustling flow of tourist travelers is the main factor which encourages commercials, services and cultures of the area.