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Hang Bac: the core street of the Old Quarter

Hang Bac is a busy street which is considered the core of Hanoi`s Old Quarter.

Hang Bac street heretofore had three different trades including silver casting, jewelery and currency exchange
Hang Bac street heretofore had three different trades including silver casting, jewelery and currency exchange

Hang Bac street under the Le dynasty belonged to Dong Cac guild, was also the setting of “Meo Lua” (A trick), a short story from Vũ Trung Tùy Bút (Collection Written on Rainy Days) by scholar Pham Dinh Ho (1768 – 1839). The story proclaims that Dong Lac guild in the 18th century was trading center of silver ingots. In the early 19th century, the street ran through two villages that were Dong Tho (the eastern part) and Dung Han (the western part), Huu Tuc canton, Tho Xuong district. By the mid-19th century, these two villages merged into one and took the name of Dong Tho village (Huu Tuc, the name of the canton was also changed to Dong Tho).

In the French colonial period, this street was called the Street of Silver Exchangers (rue des Changeurs). The current name Hang Bac has been formalized since the August Revolution in 1932.

Hang Bac street heretofore had three different trades including silver casting, jewelry and currency exchange. The silver casters were from Trau Khe village (present-day Binh Giang district, Hai Duong province). Legend has it that under the reign of Lê Thánh Tông (1460-1497), the Minister of Personnel, Luu Xuan Tin, was granted royal permission to set up a silver ingot factory in the citadel. Tin brought craftsmen from his home village to work in the factory. Since then, the villagers from Trau Khe’s five hamlets settled in Hang Bac Street and worked at silver casting “Trang” or workshop at present-day No.58 Hang Bac street. Trau Khe villagers in Hanoi built two communal houses to worship their patron saints (the founder of their craft) which are the Upper communal house or “Truong” communal house located at No. 50 Hang Bac street and the Lower communal house or Kim Ngan communal house located at No.42 Hang Bac street.

Hang Bac street remains as busy as ever
Hang Bac street remains as busy as ever

The jewelry making combines three different crafts, namely the carving to engraves figures, patterns on jewels or silverware; the silversmith to drag hot melted silver as a thread until it is as thin as a strand of hair; and the smoothing to polish products.

Besides those from Trau Khe, jewelers from Dinh Cong Thuong village (present-day Hoang Mai district, Hanoi) also settled in Hang Bac street.

Legend has it that under in the King Ly Nam De’s reign, three brothers of the Tran family living in the village of Dinh Cong Thuong learned the jewelry making craft by chance and taught it to the villagers. Dinh Cong Thuong jewelers migrating to Thang Long also settled in Hang Bac street after Trau Khe silver casters, thus their houses were built on the street section which is Hang Bo street today. They also set up a temple honoring their craft founders (three brothers of the Tran family) in Hang Bo street.

There are another jewelry making village named Dong Sam in Kien Xuong district of Thai Binh province where dwellers also migrated to Hang Bac Street. Here, they also did carving, silversmith and specialized in carving large silver items such as urn, precious vessel, betel pot, tray, silver kitchenwere while Dinh Cong workers mainly make small jewelry such as earrings, bracelet, necklet and ring.

There’s one building in Hang Bac street which is the pride of the capital’s war history. It is the Golden Bell Theater at No. 72 where the suicide squad of Vietnam’s Army swore “to fight to the death” during the most fierce days of the anti-French resistance, in the morning of January 14, 1947.