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Go Through Centuries of Ceramic History at Hanoi's Bát Tràng Museum

The Pottery Museum in Làng Gốm Bát Tràng (Bát Tràng Ceramics Village) showcases the cultural heritage of the village through its exhibits of the works of past and present artisans.

It took 30 minutes to get to Bát Tràng from Hanoi, even my Grab driver seemed a little disappointed to have to drive 20 kilometers on the motorcycle. This hamlet boasts a rich history of ceramic production, dating back to at least the 14th century. Today, the village remains dedicated to this traditional craft, with nearly every household actively involved in the production and commercialization of ceramics. As I strolled through the streets, I was surrounded by an array of colorful jars in various shapes and sizes.

The museum's unusual exterior.

The village’s Pottery Museum stood out thanks to its unique architecture. Its brown facade is reminiscent of clay and its curved lines resemble vases stacked one top of one another, a striking contrast to the typical tube Vietnamese houses. Later on, I learned that the architects were inspired by the shape of potter's wheels, but to my eyes, the building also looks like a traditional kiln. Inside the museum, the interior brings to mind the contours of a canyon, with craft stores at corners and within the pillar structures.

Glazed plates dated from the Trần Dynasty, circa 14th century.

The exhibition began with a presentation of ceramics dating from the 10th to 19th centuries. It aimed to show the public the importance of this art in the cultural history of Vietnam. A highlight of the display was a beautiful model of the boat that brought the original settlers of Bát Tràng here.

Types of furnaces used in pottery making, and a bike for transporting finished products.

After a few minutes of looking around, one thing became apparent: despite the beautiful scenography, visitors like me would not be able to learn anything for there was no complementary information. There was no guide on the history of the area with dates, no descriptions of the different methods of firing, nor the different iconographies on the ceramics.

A collection of recent ceramic works produced by families of Bát Tràng Village.

The exhibitions continued with a room dedicated to a man named Lê Văn Vân. Judging from the beautiful altar, I guessed he must have been an extraordinary character. Though with the persistent lack of information, his contribution to the Vietnamese craft remained a mystery to me. The following corridor featured the diverse range of ceramics produced by the families of Bát Tràng Village. Visitors can admire an array of colorful vases in different styles and shapes, showcasing the unique artistic traditions of the community.

Samples of ores after heat treatment, and tools for shaping pottery.

What I found most interesting about Bát Tràng was its ability to adapt and evolve its ceramics, keeping up with changing tastes, whether it's for foreign or Vietnamese tourists. From sleek, modern pieces with clean lines and solid colors, to intricately adorned ceramics, there was something for everyone. Unfortunately, my visit came to an abrupt end as the contemporary art exhibit required a separate admission fee at the front desk.

Tourists try their hand at making pottery at the museum activity corner.

Luckily, the basement of the building saved my visit. There was a workshop where you can learn pottery for VND70,000. Local artisans guided people through the process step-by-step. And the little ones could also have fun coloring ceramics.

An outside terrace at the museum.

I took a break at a nearby cafe to reflect on my experience. Although the Pottery Museum didn't offer in-depth information about Bát Tràng's rich ceramics history, its whimsical architecture and stunning porcelain displays made it a worthy stop for anyone visiting the village. The museum served primarily as a commercial space, but it still honored the talented craftsmanship of the local community.

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Chris Humphrey

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