​Archways under Hanoi’s iconic elevated railway hold special place in local hearts

Sealed or not, the arches represent the storied generations who call the area ‘home’

People travel through an archway under the elevated railway in Hanoi. Photo Tuoi Tre

Hanoi’s plan to restore 127 support archways under the city’s iconic elevated railway has local residents anxiously awaiting word on how the project will affect those whose livelihoods depend on street-side businesses below the arches.

The elevated stone railway was built between 1900 and 1902 on the 1.2 kilometer stretch along Gam Cau Street, beginning at Phung Hung Street and ending at Long Bien Station.

A total of 131 arches ranging from 3.5 to 4.5 meters tall were built to support the railway.

By the 1980s, the area under the archways had become a hotbed for pollution and social disorder, prompting authorities to seal them off.

Today, only four of the 131 arches are kept open to traffic.

The proposed revival plan calls for the 127 arches to be reopened and repurposed as a multipurpose area hosting book streets, coffee shops, and artistic activities.

Nguyen Van Van, 87, repairs electric fans as a living along the railway. Photo Tuoi Tre
Nguyen Van Van, 87, repairs electric fans as a living along the railway. Photo Tuoi Tre

Memories

Sealed or not, the domes hold the storied history of generations who have called the area ‘home’.

According to Dinh Thi Sam, an 84-year-old resident, the archways have been a neighborhood landmark since long before her birth.

During the Vietnam War in 1972, the archways were a place to seek shelter when the area was under attack.

 “I still remember the sound of the trains running above the structure, carrying weapons and food supplies from the southern region,” Sam recalled.

Between 1960 and 1970, the arches became home to several families who cooked, ate, washed clothes, and even raised chickens under their shade.

Oftentimes, residents would trade their space under the arches in the same way real estate transactions are done in today’s market, said Nguyen Luan, a local resident.

Luan recalls wartime memories when the railway was used as a staging point for soldiers from northern Vietnam to be transported to battle in southern regions.

“Family members would line up along the railway in the early morning to wave goodbye to loved ones being carried south,” Luan recounted.

“Among those soldiers, many returned but several did not,” he added.

In 1974, people living under the archways left the area for their new houses allocated by city authorities.

As residents moved out from the archways, they turned into tea stalls and artisan workshops until being sealed in the 1980s.

Many citizens, particularly the elderly, are excited to see the archways being returned to their nostalgic glory.

Cars are parked in front of the railway’s sealed domes. Photo Tuoi Tre
Cars are parked in front of the railway’s sealed domes. Photo Tuoi Tre

Livelihood

Alongside the excitement, a considerable number of residents worry that their livelihood will be affected by the project.

Nguyen Van Van, 87, has been earning a living by repairing electric fans near the closed archways for the past 50 years.

Van and his wife have 10 children who depended on his income for their survival.

Although his children are now grown, the octogenarian still works daily to take care for himself.

Van is now worried that he’ll lose his workspace once the archways are restored.

Pham Duc Hung, another worker who has toiled for years along the structure, says the shops and diners around the arches have become a distinctive aspect of the area.

Authorities should considered keeping their tradition alive while breathing new life into the old railway.

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