Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the Maison Centrale was built in 1896 by the French colonialist on Phu Khanh village, Tho Xuong district, which is Hoa Lo Street, Hoan Kiem District, one of the central streets in Hanoi as today. The relics are the former prison imprisoning Vietnam revolutionary and patriotic soldiers who struggle against colonialism. Today, thanks to the great number of precious documents conserved in intact way and scientifically exhibited, Hoa Lo Prison has become one of impressive attractions in Hanoi, alluring numerous domestic and foreign tourists.
With a total area of over 12,000 sq., Hoa Lo Prison is one of the largest and most solid prisons in Indochina at that time. The prison is surrounded by stone walls 4m high and 0.5m thick and reinforced by barbed wire systems with high voltage lines running through. 4 corners of the prison are 4 watchtowers which are likely to observe all the activities of the entire prison. In particular, the systems of steel doors, locks, hinges, and hooks are made from metal with top quality and imported from France. They all passed the strict censorship prior to construction. With the characteristics of brutal prison, Hoa Lo Prison is like a "hell" right in the heart of Hanoi City. Here, a barbarous prison regime used to be applied with full form of detention and human deprivation.
Setting foot in Hoa Lo Prison, tourists will easily feel the distinctive atmosphere of one of the most notorious prisons over the world at that time. Prisoners were chained and locked with double shackles in the cramped space and lack of the light. Doors only opened when the jailers bought the food into twice a day. In particular, Hoa Lo Prison retained Cachot zone, the special cell to detain and punish those who violate prison rules and regulations or commit an offense against the prison organization (organizing struggles, organizing breakout, or revolutionary propaganda...). Cachot cell was extremely dark, cramped, stuffy, and lacked oxygen. This is one of the forms of torture and scariest spiritual terror in Hoa Lo Prison.
Additionally, prisoners here must implement a wide variety of hard labor under the oppression and torture of jailers. They had carried out labor pains such as construction, water transport... They forced to work their best, because job performance is tied to their meals. Hoa Lo Prison is actually a hell on earth. As originally designed, the jail accommodated 500 prisoners only. Yet it has repeatedly been extended to more places for incarcerating prisoners. In period of 1950 - 1953, Hoa Lo detained more than 2,000 imprisoners. Many Vietnam revolutionaries were kept here, namely Phan Boi Chau, Nguyen Van Cu, Truong Chinh, Le Duan, Nguyen Luong Bang... Especially, during the French colonial period, one of the grisly punishments must be mentioned is decapitation. This barbarous weapon in prison was continuously operated and used from prisons to prisons throughout North Vietnam. Hoa Lo Prison currently preserves the guillotine used for executing more than 10 Vietnam's communist soldiers. It is considered as one of the evidences expressing colonial crimes at that time.
Today, Hoa Lo Prison relics with precious materials showcased scientifically is one of fascinating sights in Hanoi, attracting the great number of tourists. It has become an impressive attraction for traveling in dark which allures both domestic and foreign tourists. The prison yearly welcomes thousands of visitors, 70% of whom are foreign tourists. Together with other appealing attractions, Hoa Lo Prison deserves a must-see tourist spot of Hanoi travel.