Push to promote Hoa Lo Prison

To attract more tourists to Hanoi’s infamous Hoa Lo Prison the management board is putting great effort into promoting the cultural and historical values of the prison, reports Vietnam+.

Nguyen Thi Hien, head of the board, said staff at the site had collected many artifacts of prisoners who were detained there during war time. She added that the board will announce profiles of prisoners in a bid to encourage the public to donate more artifacts and documents.

The board will host exhibitions detailing well-known prisoner’s lives. A display which features photographs and belongings of American pilots is popular with foreign tourists.

Two documentary films focusing on the American war in Vietnam and activities of the prison as well as the humanity policies of Vietnam towards American prisoners held there will be screened.

Every year, the board will host contests on researching the history of Hoa Lo Prison for students. It will hold talks with historical witnesses to reignite interest and also renovate old and damaged areas.

The Hoa Lo Prison, nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton by American prisoners of war, was used by French colonists in Vietnam for political prisoners and later by North Vietnam for prisoners of war during the American war. U.S. senator John McCain spent over five years in the prison.

The site attracts more than 100,000 visitors, of which 70% are foreigners, every year. This year 60,400 tourists have visited Hoa Lo.

Located in downtown Hanoi, the prison was built by the French administration in 1896. Originally intended to hold around 450 prisoners, by the 1930s the number of detainees had soared to almost 2,000, the majority of them political prisoners.

During the American war, Hoa Lo Prison achieved notoriety as a place of incarceration for downed U.S. pilots.

It was called Maison Centrale during the French rule and the original sign still hangs over the entrance. Most of the prison complex was demolished in 1997 to make way for the Hanoi central tower building.

However, the architects preserved enough of the old prison to create the Hoa Lo prison museum. The majority of the exhibits here include a horrifying array of shackles, whips, and other instruments of torture, as well as tiny solitary confinement cells, which date from the French-colonial period. A smaller section of the museum is devoted to the American period. At the back of the museum is the guillotine.

The prison is at 1 Hoa Lo Street in Hanoi.

The gate of Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi – Photo: Courtesy of the prison

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