Story: Huong Quynh
Photos: Amachau

Stunning natural beauty and fascinating historic sites draw visitors to Vu Lam Citadel in Ninh Binh

The Trang An Landscape Complex is known for its tranquil scenery and cultural values, which have earned it World Heritage recognition from UNESCO. Rich in natural beauty and geological value, Trang An also boasts a rich and intriguing history. The Vu Lam Citadel in Trang An is a key destination for visitors, having been the site of important battles and historic events dating back to the Tran Dynasty (1225 to 1400).

Emperor Tran Thai Tong, the first ruler of the Tran Dynasty, abdicated his throne to his son following the Grand Viet’s first victory over Mongolian invaders in 1258. He traversed the entire country in search of a secluded place to practice Buddhism. Stopping in Trang An, Ninh Binh, Supreme Emperor Tran Thai Tong was mesmerized by the area’s green forests, meandering rivers, mysterious caves and clouds billowing over the mountains. He compared Trang An to heaven and decided to settle there to escape the mundane world. He ordered a shrine to be built, erected statues of the Buddha and devoted himself to Buddhism.

This visionary man realized that, as well as being beautiful, the mountains of Ninh Binh could be connected to Thien Truong Citadel in Nam Dinh. The towering limestone mountains and lush forests formed natural defenses, making this an ideal place to construct a citadel to which the army could easily retreat by boat from Thang Long (now Hanoi) and Thien Truong, if needed.

The Ninh Binh-based scholar Truong Han Sieu, an advisor of Tran Hung Dao known for his brilliance, advised the Tran Dynasty emperors to encourage their subjects to settle in Ninh Binh. To prepare for the return of the Mongol invaders, Vu Lam was founded and became a base with rice stores, a garrison and an armory in the wilderness in Ninh Binh. The war horses used by the Mongol invaders could easily overrun the lowland plains but were ill-suited to the steep forested mountains around Vu Lam Citadel.

Vu Lam Citadel is located south of the Trang An Landscape Complex in Ninh Binh. Spanning four large communes of Ninh Hai, Ninh Thang, Ninh Xuan and Ninh Van in Hoa Lu District, this area boasts a remarkable number of historical sites, including the Citadel Village, where emperors resided; Tuan Cao (Reporting) Village, where mandarins delivered their reports to the emperors; Truong Thi Field, where soldiers practiced military maneuvers; the Divine Harbor, where naval warships gathered; Thien Trao Village, home to many skilled boat captains; and Ha Trao Village, where boats anchored near the Citadel.

The Tran Dynasty placed great emphasis on Buddhism, building many pagodas. Twenty-four ancient pagodas remain in this area, including Bich Dong Pagoda, Linh Coc Pagoda, Hanh Cung Pagoda and Phuc Hung Pagoda.

To visit Vu Lam Citadel tourists must travel by small boat for 10km. The boats pass by mountains and through caves, halting at interesting sites such as Thai Vi Temple, which is dedicated to the Tran emperors; Saint Tran Hung Dao Temple; Ang La Pagodaand the Holy Mother Temple. The boat-rowers also serve as guides, regaling visitors with fascinating legends and stories about the area’s rich history.