Turtle Tower Hanoi Carrying Historical and Cultural Value

Speaking of Hanoi, it is impossible not to mention Hoan Kiem Lake. Speaking of Hoan Kiem Lake, it is impossible not to tell about the Turtle Tower Hanoi. Turtle Tower is a small architectural work but has historical and cultural significance for thousands of years.

Turtle Tower Hanoi
Turtle Tower Hanoi | © NguyenDo/pixabay

Turtle Tower Hanoi

The Turtle Tower is a small building on a mound located in Hoan Kiem Lake.  It is easy to move to the lake because of its central location, right in the Old Quarter of Hanoi.

Address: Hang Trong Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam

1. When was the Turtle Tower built?

Turtle Tower has officially started construction in 1886 with the purpose of being the burial place of the remains of Mr Nguyen Ngoc Kim’s father. Mr Kim was a hegemon appointed to mediate between Vietnam and France during the French invasion of Vietnam. Therefore, the tower was originally named Thap Ba Ho Kim. Later, the Vietnamese army defeated the French colonialists, so that construction was renamed Turtle Tower. The Turtle Tower follows the legend of the hero Le Loi who returned the magic sword here. So, the name Turtle Tower has come with the Hanoians until now.

In terms of counting the time when Turtle Tower was built, it is only about 130 years. However, under King Le Thai Tong ( 1442 – 1497), the tower on the Turtle mound was built in the years 1435, about 600 years ago.

With the long history and culture, Turtle Tower is one of the famous tourist destinations in Hanoi, attracting many tourists.

turtle tower hanoi
Turtle Tower in Hoan Kiem Lake | @vutovan

2. How is the architecture of the Turtle Tower Hanoi?

Started in the French colonial period, Turtle Tower has French and Vietnamese architectural style. The building was on a vacant mound of about 350m2 located in the middle of the Sword Lake. The body of the tower is the French style, but the roof still retains the Vietnamese one with four curved edges bearing ancient traditions of the temples in Vietnam.

Turtle Tower has 3 floors, and the upper floors are gradually smaller in a rectangular plan. The bottom floor of the tower is 6.28 meters long and 4.54 meters wide. The two long sides have 6 doors, the two width sides have 4 doors, a total of 10 doors. Inside this floor is divided into 3 compartments.

The 2nd floor of the Turtle Tower is smaller with two dimensions of 4.8 meters and 3.64 meters. This floor also divided 3 rooms and opened 10 doors like the first floor but smaller.

The third floor of the building is smaller with a length of 2.97 meters and a width of 1.9 meters. Due to being small, only one circular door on the east side is open on the 3rd floor. In this part, there is an altar, and above this floor, there is a square gazebo with 2 meters for each side.

3. Why is Turtle Tower an important attraction in Hanoi?

In addition to the classic architecture, the unique point of Turtle Tower Hanoi is because of its location and significance.

If the Hoan Kiem Lak is the heart of Hanoi, Turtle Tower is the centre of the heart. Therefore, even though the Turtle Tower is only a small attraction, but it locates the vital position of the lake for hundreds of years. Thus, it becomes a highlight in the lake.

turtle tower in hanoi
Turtle Tower becomes more beautiful at night. @judy._.sun

The tower is both near and far, and mysterious and quiet. With a unique location, tourists can only admire the Turtle Tower from a far distance, around the lake, so the attraction and curiosity are increased.

Another special feature of Turtle Tower is the legend of Hoan Kiem Lake. Legend has it that the Turtle Tower was named to commemorate the hero Le Loi (1384 – 1433) who fought against the Minh dynasty of China to carry the victory and independence for Vietnam.

The legend says that during a boat ride on Lake Luc Thuy (now is Hoan Kiem Lake), a golden turtle emerged from the water asking King Le Loi to return the sword that the Dragon King (in the water) had lent him to win the Minh enemy. After receiving the sword from King Le Loi, the golden turtle dived into the water and disappeared. Since then, Luc Thuy Lake has been called the Returned Sword Lake (or Sword Lake) or Hoan Kiem Lake. And, the tower on the mound in the middle of the lake has also been called the Turtle Tower.

The thrilling point is that in Sword Lake, there are big turtles that have lived for hundreds of years. In the past, there were four turtles that died. One died in 1962 at the Chi Linh flower garden, one is stored in the Hanoi Museum, the other is preserved in Ngoc Son temple on the lake, and the last turtle passed away in 2016 was mummified on display at the Vietnam National Museum of Natural History.

According to the stories, the turtles in Hoan Kiem Lake could have originated from Lam Kinh, Thanh Hoa Province (the hometown of King Le Loi). Maybe he allowed to take care of them into the lake, and then the turtle was associated with the legend of the magic sword. Therefore, Vietnamese people still call the giant turtle in this lake the Old Turtle (Cu Rua) with a sense of respect and spiritual significance.

All these factors make the Turtle Tower become a sacred cultural, historical, and spiritual symbol of Hanoi. Most people visiting Hanoi and coming to Hoan Kiem Lake will look at the Turtle Tower as a beautiful photo spot. It seems magic, holy, and very charming.

4. When is the best time to visit the Turtle Tower?

The time to visit the Turtle Tower is relative to visit Hoan Kiem Lake because this attraction is in the lake.

For us, the best time to visit Hoan Kiem Lake is at night when the lights turn on. The Turtle Tower covers a lot of colourful lights, creating a sparkling spot in the distance. That time is ideal for you to enjoy its charm and to take beautiful pictures.