The construction of the pagoda started in 541 and was completed in 545 under the reign of King Ly Nam De (544-548) under its original name of Khai Quoc (National Founder). It was initially built on the bank of the Red River (then West Lake and the Red River met). Until the early 17th century, under the reign of King Le Kinh Tong (1600-1618), the pagoda was moved to the Kim Ngu (Golden Fish) Islet due to the river bank crumbling and was renamed Tran Quoc (National Defence).
Famous for stunning scenery and sacred sanctuary, Tran Quoc Pagoda used to be a favorite sightseeing place of many kings and lord of Vietnam, especially during festivals, full moon days or Tet. Up until now, the pagoda can still preserve its fame although the landscape has been affected by urbanization.Besides the front gate facing the crowded Thanh Nien Road, this 3,000m2 complex is surrounded by sliver tide of West Lake, and is designed according to strict rules of Buddhist architecture with many layers of buildings and three main houses called “Tiền Đường”, a house for burning incense and thượng điện. These rooms are connected with each other to form a Công script (工).
The precinct of Tran Quoc Pagoda is highlighted by a high stupa that you may recognize from a far erected in 1998. This stupa is composed of 11 floors with a height of 15m; each floor has a vaulted window holding a statue of Amitabha made from gemstone. On the top stands a nine-storey lotus (Cửu đỉnh liên hoa) and is also gemstone. This stupa is situated symmetrically with the 50-year-old Bodhi tree gifted by former Indian President on the occasion of his visit to Hanoi in 1959. Abbot Thich Thanh Nha of Tran Quoc Pagoda explains the meaning of this correlation: “The lotus represent Buddha while the Bodhi is a symbol of supreme knowledge”.Not only that, Tran Quoc is also a small museum of priceless antiques dated thousands to hundreds years old like worshiping statues in the front house. These statues are all engraved and polished meticulously by skillful craftsmen, which all bear spectacular features. Among them, the outstanding one is the statue “Thích ca thập niết bàn”, which is evaluated as the most beautiful statue of Vietnam.
With all the historical and architectural values it possesses, Tran Quoc Pagoda is not only worth visiting as a sacred sanctuary of Buddhism attracting countless Buddhist believers; but also an indispensable destination for cultural explorers to Vietnam.