Hanoi’s Ceramic Mosaic Mural

The vividly colorful mural on the backdrop of the area’s gritty architecture

photography by: Omri Westmark

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Notoriously known for its hectic traffic and untidy streets, Hanoi has recently embarked on several beautification projects that aim to change this very image. Up until 2010, the major thoroughfare along the city’s flood protection embankment was nothing but a cluster of unsightly roads, endlessly echoed with horns. As part of Hanoi’s 1000th anniversary, the nondescript wall was transformed into a breathtaking ceramic mural that pays tribute to the centuries-old heritage of the Vietnamese capital.

Throughout the centuries, Hanoi has been engaged in an everlasting battle against the sheer forces of nature. With the mighty Red River crossing its center, the city has been prone to seasonal floods, particularly during the monsoon. To mitigate the risk of deluges, a massive dike system was constructed along the riverbank as early as the 2nd century AD.


While the network of levees successfully curbed the imminent threat of water inundating the neighborhoods around the river, in recent years, parts of the floodwall turned into a mere eyesore. When the city was about to mark its millennial anniversary in 2010, a nearly 4-kilometer-long segment of the embankment became a canvas for dozens of artists who in turn transformed it into a dazzling work of art.


The brainchild of Vietnamese journalist and artist Nguyễn Thu Thủy, who won an architectural contest for her idea, Hanoi’s ceramic mosaic mural comprises a mind-boggling hodgepodge of tiled paintings, standing out amid the incessant hubbub of motorbikes.


Due to it ridiculously large scale, it took almost 3 years of mammoth undertaking to complete the mosaic mural, during which 45 Vietnamese and international artists as well as 100 artisans and 500 children from the country’s rural parts, painstakingly covered the floodwall with incalculable number of small ceramic tiles.


To give you an idea of its scale, the mural-covered dike has a surface area of 6,950 m². As each square meter is covered with roughly a thousand tiles, there are at least a whopping 6.9 million individual pieces of ceramic throughout the entire art installation. These tiny tesserae are all originated from a single village on the outskirts of Hanoi by the name of Bát Tràng, renowned for its locally-made porcelain.


Showcasing the rich history and culture of Vietnam, the tiled artwork depicts multiple highlights of the country’s past dynasties and folklores, including the Lý dynasty, the Phùng Nguyên civilization, the Trần dynasty and the Nguyễn dynasty. Alongside the snapshots of sumptuous castles, legendary figures and historic events, one can also find a couple of contemporary visuals such as famous architectural landmarks from around the globe.


The 1.7 meter tall and 3,850 meter long mosaic mural starts at the busy intersection of Âu Cơ and Xuân Diệu, and then runs along the motorcycle-infested streets of Trần Nhật Duật, Yên Phụ, Nghi Tàm, Trần Khánh Dư and Trần Quang Khải before ending around the Long Biên Bridge.


Shortly after its inauguration in 2010, the ginormous mural was recognized by the Guinness World Records as the world’s largest ceramic mosaic, endowing it with global fame. With new segments of the mosaic being completed every now and then, it is expected to hold its coveted title for the foreseeable future.