Hanoi’s most important cultural and historical monuments are found in the Ba Dinh district, immediately west of the Old Quarter, where the Ly kings established their Imperial City in the eleventh century. The venerable Temple of Literature and the picturesque One Pillar Pagoda both date from this time, but nothing else remains of the Ly kings’ vermilion palaces, whose last vestiges were cleared in the late nineteenth century to accommodate an expanding French administration. Most impressive of the district’s colonial buildings is the dignified Residence of the Governor-General of Indochina, now known as the Presidential Palace. After 1954 some of the surrounding gardens gave way in their turn to Ba Dinh parade ground, the National Assembly Hall and two great centres of pilgrimage: Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and Museum. The nearby Botanical Gardens, however, survived to provide a welcome haven from modern Hanoi’s hustle and bustle. East of Ba Dinh Square the citadel encloses a restricted military area. Its most famous feature is the Cot Co Flag Tower that dominates the extreme southwest corner, next to one of Hanoi’s most rewarding museums, the Military History Museum. Although there’s a lot to see in this area, it’s possible to cover everything described below in a single day, with an early start at the mausoleum and surrounding sites, leaving the Fine Arts Museum along with the Military History Museum and Temple of Literature until later in the day.
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