The site where Hanoi stands today has been inhabited since the Neolithic period. Emperor Ly Thai To moved his capital here in AD 1010, naming it Thang Long (City of the Soaring Dragon). There should be some spectacular celebrations in honour of the 1000th birthday of the city in 2010. The decision by Emperor Gia Long, founder of the Nguyen dynasty in 1802, to rule from Hué relegated Hanoi to the status of a regional capital for a century.
Down the centuries, Hanoi has been called many names, including Dong Kinh (Eastern Capital), from which the Europeans derived the name they eventually applied to all of northern Vietnam – Tonkin. The city was named Hanoi (The City in a Bend of the River) by Emperor Tu Duc in 1831. From 1902 to 1953, Hanoi served as the capital of French Indochina.
Hanoi was proclaimed the capital of Vietnam after the August Revolution of 1945, but it was not until the Geneva Accords of 1954 that the Viet Minh, driven from the city by the French in 1946, were able to return.
During the American War, US bombing destroyed parts of Hanoi and killed hundreds of civilians; almost all the damage has since been repaired. One of the prime targets was the 1682m-long Long Bien Bridge, originally built between 1888 and 1902 under the direction of the same architect who designed the Eiffel Tower in Paris. US aircraft repeatedly bombed the strategic bridge, yet after each attack the Vietnamese managed to improvise replacement spans and return it to road and rail services. It is said that the US military ended the attacks when US prisoners of war (POWs) were put to work repairing the bridge.