King Ly Thai To named the Audience Palace Can Nguyen as the centre of the heaven and earth where he seated on the throne to rule the country. Succeeding Ly Dynasty, Tran and Le Dynasties continued to construct the the fortress system here. The area of great importance was Forbidden Palace (Dragon Palace or Dragon and Phoenix Palace) the centre of which was Can Nguyen and Thien An Palaces under Ly – Tran Dynasties and Kinh Thien Palace under Le Dynasty.
Since 1788, when King Quang Trung set up the capital in Phu Xuan – Hue followed by Nguyen Dynasty (1802 – 1945), Thang Long became the headquarter of Northern Citadel.
In 1805, King Gia Long ordered to build this area as the royal step-over palace for Nguyen Kings during their trips to the North. The name Hanoi Ancient Citadel originated in 1831 when King Minh Mang implemented an adminstrative reform in which provinces through out the country including Hanoi were established. Hanoi Citadel became the headquarters of Hanoi Province.
During French domination at the end of XIXth century, French colonialists destroyed Kinh Thien royal step-over palace and built a headquarters of artillery which was then called Dragon Courtyard (aka Long Tri) because there were stone dragons in the front and at the back.
After October 10th, 1954, when Vietnamese Army took over the capital, this area became the headquarters of the Ministry of Defence.
In 2004, the Ministry of Defence handed over a part of the centre of Thang Long – Hanoi Imperial Citadel to Hanoi People’s Committee.
Kinh Thien Palace is the central monument and the core in the overall historic sites within Hanoi Ancient Citadel. Doan Mon (the Main Gate) and the Flag Tower of Hanoi are situated in the front of Kinh Thien Palace, Hau Lau (Princess’ Palace) and Cua Bac (Northern Gate) at the back, walls and smaller gates in the east and west. Along with some other relics in the ancient citadel, all these gates were classified as a historical monument by French Protective State in 1925.
Kinh Thien Palace was the central construction of the entire imperial palace under Le Dynasty (XVth – XVIIIth centuries) in Thang Long – Dong Kinh (Hanoi). In 1428, after defeating Ming Dynastry invaders, King Le Thai To continued to set up the capital in Thang Long, ordered to renew the damaged royal citadel. Kinh Thien Palace was built during this period of time. In 1886, it was destroyed. Nowadays, only ruins of steps and palace foundation remain (within the Hanoi Ancient Citadel).
"Observing the architecture of Kinh Thien Palace in photographs taken by the French at the end of XIXth century, we can see that Kinh Thien Palace is a timber architecture with two “二” shape parts. The palace was built with the architecuture of 2 floors and 8 roofs with curved corners. The rooftop of the two storeys was sculpted with two dragons flanking to the sun. Around the palace, a large courtyard was surrounded with banisters."Hanoicitadel.com
Traces of KinhThienPalace are now only the old foundation. The foundation of the palace was 57m long, 41.5, wide and 2.3m high. The steps were built with granite and formed three entrances. In the south, the palace foundation still had handrail corridor of higher than 100 cm. In the front, the south of KinhThienPalace was the palace threshold built with large slates with 10 steps; the 4 stone dragons divided the steps into 3 alleys, forming the Royal Threshold. The steps were 13.7m long, 4.45m wide and 2.1m high with the two stone dragons carved in 1467 which were still relatively intact artifacts.
Kinh Thien Palace stone dragons were a masterpiece, representing the sculpture under early Le Dynasty. Carved with green rock, the dragons had raised big heads, round convex eyes, long horns, and mane gliding back. The dragon body formed many small curves, smaller toward the palace foundation; on the back, there was a long fin heaving like clouds or fire.
In the north of KinhThienPalace, there was another threshold of 7 steps, smaller than the main threshold in the south. The two sides of the threshold had two stone dragons dating King Le Trung Hung’s time (XVII century – XVIII century); the dragons were 3.4m long with 7 curves; the body had fin and scales; the feet had 5 claws, etc. The two sides of the handrails were decorated with lotus, waves, swords, fire and clouds, etc.
The foundation and threshold are meager relics of palace architecture under the Le Dynasty that remains to this day, partly reflecting the grand scale of Kinh Thien Palace in the past.
The space has become a “double” relic for the two eras, i.e. Kinh Thien Palace of Thang Long ancient imperial citadel and the Headquarter of General Commander of the Vietnam People’s Army – an important relic on modern Vietnamese history. Since November, 2004, officially open to visitors, the ancient citadel – KinhThienPalace has become one of the sights extremely attractive to tourists.