In the heart of the Old Quarter, the small Bach Ma Temple is said to be the oldest temple in the city, though much of the current structure dates from the 18th century and a shrine to Confucius was added in 1839. It was originally built by Emperor Ly Thai To in the 11th century to honour a white horse that guided him to this site, where he chose to construct his city walls.
Pass through the wonderful old wooden doors of the pagoda to see a statue of the legendary white horse, as well as a beautiful red-lacquered funeral palanquin.
According to the legend, when Cao Pian went out to the east gate one day, he saw a stranger appear in a 5-colour cloud. That night, Pian dreamt of the stranger, who called himself Long Đỗ, and Pian had his bronze hammer buried for exorcism. The following night a great storm raged and in the morning the hammer was broken into sandy pieces. Pian was very frightened so he built a temple to appease the Long Đỗ deity.
In 1010, King Lý Thái Tổ transferred the capital of Đại Việt (now known as Việt Nam) from Hoa Lư (Ninh Bình) to the Đại La Citadel and renamed it Thăng Long (now Hà Nội). He tried to rebuild the citadel many times but it always fell down. The king ordered the people to pray at Long Đỗ Temple and he saw a white horse come out from the temple. The king knew this was an omen so he had the citadel designed to resemble the traces of the horse’s harness and finally it was successfully completed. Long Đỗ was named the tutelary god of the Thăng Long Citadel by King Lý Thái Tổ and became known as the god of Mount Nùng in the royal capital of Thăng Long. According to a legend, Mount Nùng had a deep canyon which was the receiving location of miraculous air for Thăng Long Capital.
Located in the center of Hà Nội’s ancient quarter, Bạch Mã temple is an isolated religious relic that runs in a long, narrow path from its facade on Hàng Buồm Street to the back door on Ngõ Gạch Street.
The temple has a wooden framework with big iron-wood columns. The rafters joining together to form a weight-bearing structure and an art-work abundant in decorative carvings. The incense-burning house has a carapace-shaped roof.According to its existing steles, Bạch Mã underwent large scale renovations during the reign of Lê Chính Hoà (1680–1705) and was further repaired in the 20th year of the Minh Mạng reign (1820-1841). The temple was enlarged and had its own shrine, steles, and phương đình (square pavilion) which made it a more solemn place. The temple was again renovated and upgraded in the year 2000.
Bach Ma temple
Bạch Mã Temple is a unique architectural construction and one of the four district gate temples of ancient Thăng Long. The district gates and their temples are located at the four compass points of the city: QuánThánh Temple to the north, Bạch Mã Temple in the east, Kim Liên Communal House and temple in the south, and Voi Phục (kneeling elephant) Temple to the west.
Among these temples, Bạch Mã is the oldest and its existence has been documented over one thousand years since the Lý and Trần Dynasties. Today it contains many valuable relics such as stone steles, altars, shrines and statues. Along with architectural and artistic merit, Bạch Mã Temple is also a valuable resource for researching and studying the history of Thăng Long–Hà Nội.