Hanoi and its surrounding areas have more than one thousand craft villages that have existed for centuries. If you leave the hectic Vietnamese capital for a few hours or for a day you may discover one or more of these villages punctuated by the artisanal activities and ancestral customs of the Red River Delta as Bat Trang, a village specializing in ceramics on the suburb of Hanoi since centuries.
History of Vietnamese ceramics
The history of Vietnamese ceramics is as long as the Vietnamese civilization, dating back from the Mesolithic (around 10,000 BC) with the culture of Son Vi and Hoa Binh. But Vietnamese ceramics was pushed to another level of aesthetics and its own style under the Ly dynasty from the eleventh century when our country took back the independence after ten centuries of Chinese rule from that, Vietnamese ceramics asserted one’s identity.
Under the Le dynasty in the 15th century, the first kiln appeared at Bat Trang, a small village on the Red River a few kilometers from Hanoi, the capital of that time. Maybe the location of Bat Trang was really ideal because it located on the waterway between the two largest cities and shopping centers of Hanoi, then called Thang Long, and Pho Hien.
Being inspired by Buddhism, Vietnamese ceramics quickly became a reference of aesthetic characterized by its very freestyle of creation largely. When launching its imperialism towards the south, the production of pottery and Vietnamese ceramics received the cultural contribution of the Champa kingdom which used to conquer over the centuries. The new decorative pattern was marked by Indianized civilization and then appeared. Subsequently, Vietnamese ceramics integrated some Western methods with the arrival of the French at the end of the 19th century.
At the National Museum of History in Hanoi, you can admire a beautiful collection of statues representative of the national ceramics. Nowadays, Vietnam is home to many Vietnamese ceramics production centers that maintain the excellence of artisans, such as Bat Trang village, famous for product quality in the country and even internationally.
Bat Trang, the cradle of ceramics in Vietnam
Ceramic production in Bat Trang has existed since at least the 14th century, this village is considered the cradle of ceramics in Vietnam. With more than 600 kilns still in operation, Bat Trang is home to the largest number of ovens at the national level. Even today, the village of Bat Trang is geared almost exclusively towards this ancestral craft and its marketing.
It is understandable that the vast majority of households in the village of Bat Trang are directly involved in the production of ceramics.
You can take a walk through the maze of alleys to visit the family workshops and observe the meticulous work of craftsmen. You can observe all the stages to produce Vietnamese ceramics: the preparation of clay, the dexterity of the potter who molds or turns, the finesse of the decorative motifs: landscapes, characters, flowers, and birds. folk characters, herbs, and insects.
Then coming glaze, an important step in which clothing, waterproofing, and tougher ceramics. Lastly, cooking can last from 12 to 72 hours, depending on the oven and the pieces being cooked. The ovens are wood, coal and more recently gas and electric. And even if the furnaces are modernized, releasing less toxic fumes, the show of furnaces is always impressive.
Be sure that you can visit the oven Lo Bâu, an old century old furnace widely used until the 20th century and which required a lot of wood and qualified personnel to adjust the temperature. The lighting of an oven was a real ritual led by the owner of the oven who has been watching the cooking, crucial step, with attention.
At Bat Trang, there are a large number of shops where you feel free to discover the extent of local production. There are jars and vases of all sizes, bowls, plates, dishes, spoons, cups, tea sets, boxes, etc. If you have less time, you can even order tailor-made goods for a workshop with shapes, designs, and patterns to your favorite.
Namely that many artisans sell unsatisfied with small defects at prices despite competition. Buying Bat Trang ceramics is an excellent souvenir of Vietnam to bring back for yourself or for your loved ones. And it’s a great way to encourage and support ancestral traditional crafts.
For those who want to unlock the secrets of Vietnamese ceramics, you can participate in a pottery class. To see also the museum of ceramics which is located in the heart of the village in a beautiful traditional house it allows you to admire a collection of more than 360 ceramic pieces of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This small museum was founded on the initiative of a private Haitian collector, Mr. Tran Ngoc Lam.