Hồ Hoàn Kiếm

( Hoàn Kiếm Lake )

Hoàn Kiếm Lake (Vietnamese: Hồ Hoàn Kiếm, chữ Hán: 湖還劍, meaning "Lake of the Returned Sword" or "Lake of the Restored Sword"), also known as Sword Lake (Hồ Gươm) or Tả Vọng Lake (Hồ Tả Vọng), is a fresh water lake, measuring some 12 ha in the historical center of Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam.

In the past, the lake was variously named "Lục Thủy Lake" (Vietnamese: Hồ Lục Thủy, meaning "Green Water Lake" - aptly named for the water's color) or "Thủy Quân Lake" (Vietnamese: Hồ Thủy Quân, meaning "Mariner's Lake"). The lake is one of the major scenic spots in the city and serves as a focal point for its public life.

One of the most captivating aspects of Ho Guom's history is the legendary tale associated with it. According to folklore, during the 15th century, Emperor Le Loi led a revolt against Chinese invaders. It is said that while boating on the lake, a divine turtle emerged and asked the emperor to return a magical sword that had been lent to him. The sword said to have been granted by a heavenly deity, helped Emperor Le Loi defeat the Chinese. This legend, known as "The Legend of the Returned Sword," has become an integral part of Vietnamese culture and is celebrated through various art forms.

Ho Guom's history is intricately connected to the rise and fall of different dynasties in Vietnam. During the early Ly Dynasty, Ho Guom was a much larger lake, extending beyond its present boundaries to encompass part of the Old Quarter of Hanoi. Under the Le Dynasty, the lake evolved into a recreational area and was renamed Ho Hoan Kiem, meaning "Lake of the Restored Sword." Each dynasty left its mark on the lake, shaping its landscape under their visions and needs.

From ancient times, Ho Guom has been revered as a symbol of nationalism and resilience. It is seen as a reflection of the indomitable spirit of the Vietnamese people. The story of Emperor Le Loi and the divine turtle resonates deeply in Vietnamese culture, embodying the fight for independence and the protection of the nation's sovereignty. Ho Guom symbolizes the deep connection between the Vietnamese people and their land, instilling a sense of pride and unity through shared history and legend.

Over the years, Ho Guom has undergone significant changes due to urban development. The expansion of Hanoi and the increasing population led to the shrinking of the lake's size. However, conservation efforts have been made to preserve its natural beauty and historical significance. Surrounding the lake are cultural landmarks such as Ngoc Son Temple and The Huc Bridge, showcasing traditional Vietnamese architecture. The serene environment continues to attract locals and visitors, reminding them of the lake's enduring appeal.

The history of Ho Guom Lake is a tapestry of legend, triumph, and cultural pride. Its association with the legend of the sword, the transformation through dynasties, and its symbolism of resilience and national identity make it a significant historical site. Today, Ho Guom stands as a testament to Vietnam's rich heritage, a place where local traditions merge with modern life. As we wander around the lake's shores and immerse ourselves in its beauty, we cannot help but be captivated by the spirit and legends that have shaped Ho Guom into the cultural gem it is today.

Photographies by:
Cyril Doussin from London, United Kingdom - CC BY-SA 2.0
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