This Prison was sarcastically known to American prisoners of war as the "Hanoi Hilton", it was a prison used by the French colonists in Vietnam for political prisoners from 1899 to 1954 and later by North Vietnam for American prisoners of war from 1964 to 1973.
It now becomes the museum chronicling the use of the site by both the French and North Vietnamese, although some authorities have suggested that some of the information in the museum is not terribly reliable.
For the emergency of the situation, the construction of the prison was started in 1896 on the territory of the former Phu Khanh Village, and quickly became the firmest prison in the region, confining the protesters against the French of all types. Together with the Court of Justice and Intelligence Police Department on the other side of the street, they made a triad of suppressing tools against the patriotic movement of the Vietnamese!
Phu Khanh was the only professional handicraft village in the city, specialized in producing ceramic housewares, where people fired their pottery kilns all the time; hence the village got another name of Hoa Lo or fired pottery – kilns. To get a land area of 12.000m2 to build the prison, the French administration moved away 48 households of the village and torn down an old age Buddhist pagoda.
This is the model of the original prison until 1993, when two third of the complex was destroyed to build the Hanoi Twin Tower next door. As we can see; the prison was fenced by a solid wall made of stones on an iron structure, the wall was 4 meters height and 50cm2 thick, topped with pieces of broken glass and high voltage electricity. The outer area consists of a secretary office, guards, and sections of European prisoners, female prisoners, healthcare center and kitchen. The inner area consisted of 9 separated sections; each detention room was firmly built to be narrow, dark and dirty. All construction material supplied for Hoa Lo Prison was standardized; especially all the iron doors and locks were imported from France.
The prison had to start receiving prisoners since 1899 when its construction hadn’t been completed. The capacity in its initial design was 500 prisoners but it must be continuously restructured to minimize the area of the stores, healthcare center and to maximize the jail area. In the years of 1950 – 1954, Hoa Lo Prison held up to 2000 prisoners. Some detention rooms were so crowded that the prisoners had to request to take the weaker one out so that they were not suffocated.
Every day, the prisoners had two meals of rotten rice, rotten dried vegetables, and rotten dried fish and rarely with tough buffalo or pork. They had also 15 minutes for a walk and bath. All of them had to stand naked around a well built in the center of the yard and to pour water very quickly onto their body while the guards and jailers watched them. The woman prisoners were kept in a separated section but their condition was not better that that of male prisoners.
Though all Vietnamese political prisoners were released on October 10, 1954 when Hanoi was liberated by Viet Minh, the number of prisoners had been kept in Hoa Lo remains unknown.
When the French leaved in 1954, the Vietnamese authorities changed the name of the street and the prison to "Hoa Lo". Hoa Lo Street is the only street in Hanoi that has only one address on it... the prison.
From 1954 to 1964, it was closed, then reopened from the end of 1964 to Mar 1973 to house and interrogate captured servicemen, mostly American pilots shot down during bombing raids. The prison complex was sarcastically nicknamed the "Hanoi Hilton" by the POW since they endured miserable conditions.
After 1973, when the prison was closed, numerous guards and government officials denied claims that prisoners of war had been tortured at the Hanoi Hilton, despite ample evidence to the contrary.
After the Paris Peace Accords implementation, the government of Vietnam firmly holds to the view that the Hanoi Hilton was a prison for criminals, not POWs, and that those held in the Hanoi Hilton were "pirates" and "bandits" who had attacked Vietnam without authority.
In the 2000s, the Vietnamese government has held the position that claims that prisoners were tortured during the war are fabricated, but that Vietnam wants to move past the issue as part of establishing better relations with the U.S.
Tran Trong Duyet, a jailer at Hoa Lo beginning in 1968 and its commandant for the last three years of the war maintained in 2008 that no prisoners were tortured. However, eyewitness accounts by servicemen who survived present a different account of their captivity.
Most of it was demolished during mid-1990s construction of a high rise that now occupies most of the site. The interrogation room where many newly captured Americans were questioned (notorious among former prisoners as the "blue room") is now made up to look like a very comfortable. Displays in the room claim that Americans were treated well and not harmed (and even cite the nickname "Hanoi Hilton" as proof that inmates found the accommodations comparable to a hotel's).