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The Long Bien Bridge in Hanoi

13/06/2019 404 Views

The Long Bien bridge, formerly the Paul Doumer bridge, was built by the French company Daydé & Pillé from 1898 to 1902. With a total length of 1680 m, it was at that time the longest bridge in Indochina. A symbol of French colonization in Vietnam, it is now a link between the past and the present.
 

Today, although cars and trucks can no longer use this bridge, traffic remains very dense with trains, pedestrians, bicycles, and especially motorcycles. Many of the people who go through this bridge every day are wondering how it was built. In fact, traces of the year of construction and the names of the creators are still visible on the bridge stop. It was Paul Doumer, the Governor General of Indochina at that time, who had this original metal structure built. Worth 6,200,000 francs at the time, Long Bien was the first steel bridge over the Red River.

Le Huy Tuan, from National Archives Centre Number 1, explains:

“This was an important infrastructure for the movement of people and especially goods from Hanoi, from the centre of the Red River Delta to other parts of North Vietnam like Hai Phong and vice versa. A major promoter of rail transport, Indochina’s Governor General Paul Doumer understood the importance of the bridge more than anyone. Previously, goods were transported by ferries. Initially, the bridge was designed for rail transportation, but there was also a highway on the bridge. An offer was launched attracting the participation of six French companies but Daydé & Pillé was the only winner.”

 

The bridge was officially commissioned in 1903, four years after its construction began. The first train took King Thanh Thai and the Governor General of Indochina, Paul Doumer, from Hanoi station to the bridge to inaugurate it in the presence of thousands of Hanoi people. Since that day, the longest bridge in Indochina was then called «Paul Doumer Bridge».

The Red River Pier ceased to function because people could use the Long Bien Bridge to cross the river even during the flood season. The bridge also allowed the French to accelerate their colonial operations in North Vietnam.

In July 1945, Tran Van Lai, the mayor of Hanoi at that time, decided to name this bridge «Long Biên Bridge», Long Bien being the name of the peripheral district of Hanoi on the left bank of the Red River, where the bridge is located.

Vu Van Thin, a Hanoi who is very attached to this bridge, says:

“For me, the Long Bien Bridge is the most beautiful and romantic. Its architecture is very original. It is shaped like a dragon. Once restored, it will become an unparalleled work in the region.”

In the beginning, this bridge was only accessible to bicycles, trains and pedestrians. 20 years later, two roads 2 m wide were added. The traffic rules are still today: pedestrians walk on the runway reserved for them, the authorized speed is 15 km/h, no lights on the bridge are allowed.

At that time, issue 387 of the weekly newsletter "L'Éveil économique de l'Indochine" reported that a second bridge over the Red River would be built. However, this project was never carried out because of the end of French colonization in 1954. This idea later inspired the leaders of the city of Hanoi.

“This bridge is undoubtedly the symbol of French colonization in Vietnam, but it still facilitates the transport of the inhabitants. It was once a strategic axis of our country. So we must preserve this cultural work and this place full of history. In 1955, the French withdrew from Hanoi on this bridge to Hai Phong.” said Le Huy Tuan, from National Archives Centre Number 1.

Hanoi now has other bridges spanning the Red River such as Chuong Duong, Thang Long, Thanh Tri, Vinh Tuy or Nhat Tan, but the Hanoi remain very attached to the Long Bien bridge which is always a privileged walk allowing them to contemplate the Red River in peace and to feel the scents of the past.
 

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