Hanoi Hilton

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The History of Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam

The French built this prison and called it the Maison Centrale. This is another infamous hostelry, known to American GIs as the Hanoi Hilton or Hoa Lo Prison, designed by Auguste-Henri Vildieu and built by the French in 1899 – even before the Customs House. It was later used by the Vietnamese. Originally much larger and the French planned to hold 450 political prisoners, in the past sometimes the number POWs under the French rule, it held nearly 2,000 in what the prisoners have suffered from miserable conditions. Many Vietnamese nationalist leaders were imprisoned here, no fewer than five future General Secretaries of the Vietnamese Communist Party. Later, many American Prisoners Of Wars. One of them, Pete Peterson, later became the first American Ambassador to Vietnam in 1997; also held here, John McCain, now American Senator.

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The original part of Hanoi Hilton

When they built the Hanoi tower and hotel next door, only a small part of the prison was kept as a museum, preserving a few cells, their rusty shackles and instruments of torture. Among them is a guillotine, that the French used to behead Vietnamese resistance soldiers during the French colonial period. Considered a fast, compassionate means of execution by the French, the guillotine was used in France until 1977

Hoa Lo Prison used to cover the whole area. In 1993, the Vietnamese government decided to demolish most parts of the prison to build a new hotel at the same site in the downtown of Hanoi to better use. So most of the original jail has gone, a modern tower with boutique stores and high-end Western restaurants now takes up much of the space. But one corner of the original prison has been maintained and function as a war museum. Tourists can now walk through the chambers that has been the scene of so much suffering in the past

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The architecture of Hanoi Hilton

When the French built it, Hoa Lo was one of the largest jails in Indochina, including 12,908 square meters. So the prison was also one of the most protected, using concrete, cement slabs rather than the usual local building materials. They built the solid stone walls 13 feet high and 2 feet thick. And just in case the walls weren’t already difficult enough to break, so they topped the walls with sharp broken glass and the barbed wire connected to high voltage power. Guards always watched over the outer border from watchtowers. The ten-ton iron doors and locks were also from France.

The outer area of the compound held the medical clinic, the administrative offices, prisoner kitchen, guard headquarters, and cells for European and women prisoners. The inner sanctum, with much heavier security, held the death rows and punishment cells.

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The surrounding areas of Hanoi Hilton

Continuing along Ly Thuong Kiet, note the beautiful old villas at No. 66, the residence of the Australian Ambassador; No. 88, the Ministry of Trade and No. 72, the extraordinarily angular UNDP building. If your feet are still willing, at the end of Ly Thuong Kiet, turn left. The American bombed and destroyed the entrance to Hanoi’s Railway Station on the right and now they replaced it with incongruous modernity. But the remainder of the building bears.

If your feet are still willing, at the end of Ly Thuong Kiet, turn left. But the remainder of the building bears the hallmarks of French colonial style: ochre stUcco walls, black shuttered rectangular windows.