Story: Tuan Hung
Photos: Ba Ngoc
We discover one of the most interesting streets in Hanoi’s Old Quarter – Hang Bac, a center for producing and selling jewelry.
An old folk chant describes Hanoi’s Old Quarter as follows:
Let’s wander around The Dragon Citadel
The Thirty Six Street Quarter, you name them all
The Baskets, The Silver, The Flax
The Sails, The Tin, The Slippers, The Trays
The Horse Tails, The Pipes, The Shoes
The Fishing Baskets, The Hop Blinds, The Rattan, The Lutes…
Thang Long – Hanoi was said to be home to a hundred crafts. These crafts were centered in the Old Quarter, also known as the Thirty-Six Quarter, since it was home to 36 guild streets. People from across the country settled here to supply traditional crafts to the royal court. Hang Bac Street (Silver Street) has preserved its original occupation and craft techniques.
In the later half of the 15th century, the economy of Thang Long Citadel flourished, feeding cash into the regional economy. Silver ducats were the currency in those days, hence silversmithing and minting coins were important occupations in Thang Long Citadel. According to the history books, in 1461, under the reign of Emperor Le Thanh Tong, the Minister of Internal Affairs Luu Xuan Tin who was based in Chau Khe Village, Hai Duong (known for minting silver coins) was assigned by the king to found a mint in the Citadel.
Villagers from Chau Khe migrated to Hang Bac Street, which had already been known for its jewelry crafting and currency exchange shops. Many mints manufactured ducats. The silversmiths built two titular temples: Truong Titular Temple and Kim Ngan (Gold and Silver) Titular Temple.
In the early 19th century, the Nguyen Dynasty moved the mint to the Hue Citadel, yet most of the coin-makers from Chau Khe remained in Thang Long and switched from making coins to jewelry. They produced women’s earrings, bracelets, brooches, rings and ornaments such as golden trays, silver plates and vases. Popular decorative motifs included dragons, phoenixes, spruce trees, bamboo, and flowers such as chrysanthemums, peach blossoms, orchids and apricot blooms. Jewelry production and trading still flourish on Hang Bac today.
Hang Bac Street draws both locals and tourists. Measuring less than 500 meters long, the street is lined with jewelry shops and full of traffic. People line up to view some attractions. The most famous site is Kim Ngan Titular Temple at 42 Hang Bac, dedicated to the Founding Father of All Trades Hien Vien. As one of the oldest and most spacious titular temples in Hanoi, Kim Ngan Titular Temple houses some sophisticated sculptures made by carpenters, masons and especially jewelers. Generations of locals on Hang Bac Street came here to worship and exchange ideas for perfecting their craft. For visitors, this temple should not be missed as it hosts exhibitions, activities and performances relating to Hanoi’s Old Quarter.