Hoa Lo Prison - Maison Centrale in Hanoi

Hoa Lo Prison - Maison Centrale in Hanoi

Rachel Tran Rachel Tran | Published Jan 06, 2020

Just 5 minutes away from the Hilton Hanoi Opera Hotel, Hoa Lo Prison is well worth a visit.

Located in the center of the capital of  Vietnam, well-known as one of the most inhumane prisons with terrified punishment, Hoa Lo Prison, aka Maison Centrale, is a symbol of strong will of prisoners and their sacrifice for their communist ideals.

Location:  1 Hoa Lo Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi

Opening hours:  from 8h00 to 17h00 every day except special holidays. 

Ticket price:  VND 30,000 / turn.

1. History of Hoa Lo Prison

Hoa Lo Prison (now it is called historic relic Hoa Lo Prison) is located at address 1 Hoa Lo Street, Hanoi. In the past, this land was a village specializing in making all kinds of casserole, portable earthen stove,…. so this place is called Hoa Lo village (Hoa Lo means “ fire earthen stove” in Vietnamese). When the French occupied Hanoi, this was moved to another place to get land to build courts and prisons. Because this prison was landed on Hoa Lo village, people called this place “Hoa Lo Prison”.

Hoa Lo prison was built by the French in 1896 and was named “Central Prison”. The location of the prison was located on the full land of Phu Khanh village. The total area of Central Prison and the neighboring roads leading to the prison is 12.908m2.

Hoa Lo Prison has an important role in French colonists in suppressing the antagonist of the colonial system. So they built this prison in a large area with strong and complex defense systems. The building process was not completed, but in 1899 the French had to use it immediately because they wanted to capture people fighting against them. Many years later, the prison regularly was renovated, repaired, increased the cell area, etc. In 1912, the prison repaired the warehouse into a children’s capture place. In 1917, they rebuilt toilets and filtering holes. In 1945, they raised the wall surrounding the prison up to 1.5m high. The original design of the French only contains 450 prisoners, but in fact, they had up to 2,000 people.

After 1954, the prison was renamed the “Hanoi prisoners detention center” and assigned to Hanoi Military Administration, under the management of the city’s authority. From 1964 to 1973, this was also a place to arrest American pilots and they called it “Hanoi Hilton”.

In 1993, to satisfy the development of the capital, the Vietnam government decided: a part of Hoa Lo Prison was used to build “Tower center” used as a hotel, office; a part of prison next to Hoa Lo Street is preserved and embellished the memorial Hoa Lo Prison.

Hoa Lo Prison has been recognized as a historical monument by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism since 1997. Currently, Hoa Lo Prison has become a “red address” where traditional education of patriotism, the revolution was spread to all people, especially the younger generation of the capital; this also attracts domestic and international visitors to visit, study and learn every year.

Inside Hoa Lo prison
Photo: pinimg.com

2. Architecture and Structure in Hoa Lo Prison

Hoa Lo Prison has an area of more than 12,000 square meters with the main items:

  • A house for guarding
  • A house used as a hospital
  • Seven houses to detain the accused prisoners
  • A workshop for making iron, textiles, leather products
  • Four cells for dangerous and rules violated prisoners.

The prison is surrounded by a 4m tall of the fortified stone wall, 0.5 m thick with a high voltage system to prevent prisoners from escaping. Under the inner wall is a 3m wide pavement that is used for guards to go patrol. Four corners have four watchtowers, with the ability to observe the entire side of the inside patrol way and outside of the prison. All iron doors and locking systems are carried from France.

The main gate is built with a two-storey building, structured in rolling arches style. The prison area has 2 lines of iron gates. From one camp to another camp, they must follow a way of having many iron gates, so the prisoners can hardly escape.

Stepping through the prison main gate area, you can see many narrow, dark corridors that lead to the prisoners’ confinement area. The place is separated by a large, fortified door, nearly 4m tall, with a solidified iron locking system, where prisoners are chained into two long chains on the concrete podium. The light of this zone is only available from small window frames that create a dark scene.

The opposite of the capture area is the administrative area for guarding, consisting of two houses The first floor has a small corridor in the middle position, on the right side has endowment station, patrol walkway, clerk’s office, detention room, and night guards, on the left is the aisle path, the room of director. The second floor is used as a guard’s house with two porches, a dining room, a living room, and four bedrooms. One side is the infirmary, the right side of the stairs is the kitchen, the laundry, the left side of the stairs is the living room, the medicine room, the grocery stores. The second floor of this house is also reserved for prisoners of Europe, on the right side has four rooms and a woman’s infirmary. The left side also has four rooms and a male infirmary.

The other areas have only one floor and three clusters: Right cluster includes four detention rooms and outbuildings of the supervisors, a factory, a charity hospital, a boarding house for 30 women; a supervisor’s room with bathroom and injection room, 12 small rooms (cells) for dangerous prisoners, a gendarme station, a common jail holds up to 100 accused people. The left side has 4 cells and the supervisor of the home side, a common place for 40 people, a room for the supervisor. At the end of the prison has a room for about 20 women, the injection room, a common cell for 80 people, a room for the supervisor. The water from the prison is supplied from the Water factory of Hanoi. 

3. Highlights of Hoa Lo Prison 

The most famous thing in Hoa Lo Prison is the guillotine. The guillotine was designed from 2 to 4 m high by wooden columns. The above is a large blade held by latches. The under are two semicircular pieces of boards combined into a perfect circle. Its purpose is to keep the heads of dead prisoners ahead.

Also in Hoa Lo Prison has a dangerous place called Cachot. This is considered the hell of hell. It has detained prisoners who have opposed behaviors, or dangerous offenders. It is extremely dark, cramped and airless. Cachot is a horrifying nightmare with prisoners. This is where the tortured, beaten scenes took place. Most of the prisoners at this place after a short time are so crazy, mangy, etc.

4. What to See and Do at Hoa Lo Prison Museum?

Visitors can take photos, and observe the imprisoned life in the small cells (1.8m x 1.8 m). Windows are always closed and the prison is always full of people. In this prison, you’ll see the horrified iron shackles and many artifacts and photographs of prisoners who are wearing leg chains, and can not stand up or move. Prisoners often starved, tortured, are always beaten and isolated. Thereby, visitors can understand the spirit of the revolutionary soldiers, and the humanitarian policy of Vietnamese people against the American pilots prisoner in the Vietnam War.

Besides, this has the special architecture style of the French in the 19th century, so you can take photos or simply just enjoy it to know more.

5. How to Get to Hoa Lo Prison

Hoa Lo Prison  is one of the most famous attractions in the capital, so finding and getting to this is so easy by many transportations such as taxi, public bus, motorbike or bicycle. 

This prison is at the corner of Hai Ba Trung Street, in the south of Hoan Kiem Lake, so it can take about 15 minutes (5 km) from the lake to the prison if you drive a motorbike.

If you want to use a public bus with a cheaper price (about VND 15,000 / person), you can use many available lines: 02, 09, 23. Besides, this prison is contributed by double decker bus lines in the capital.

6. Tips on Visiting Hoa Lo 

Travelers visiting Hoa Lo prison must notice the instructions on safety guidelines and fire prevention, the luggage must be sent in the special places. Especially, do not touch and move objects in the prison. You can visit the memorial area to burn incense, so you should not use it in forbidden areas.

Hoa Lo Prison nowadays is no more used as a function: containing prisoners, but when visiting this place, visitors can feel the patriot ideal of prisoners, harsh punishments in the hell of hell, or just simply understand more about the unique structure of the prison.


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