The Hoa Lo Prison later known to American prisoners of war as the "Hanoi Hilton", was a prison used by the French colonists in Vietnam for political prisoners and later by North Vietnam for prisoners of war during the Vietnam War.
The name Hoa Lo, commonly translated as "fiery furnace" or even "Hell's hole", also means "stove". The name originated from the street name phố Hỏa Lò, due to the concentration of stores selling wood stoves and coal-fire stoves along the street from pre-colonial times.
The prison was built in Hanoi by the French, in dates ranging from 1886–1889 to 1898 to 1901, when Vietnam was still part of French Indochina. It was intentioned to hold Vietnamese prisoners, particularly political prisoners agitating for independence who were often subject to torture and execution. The French called the prison Maison Centrale - a usual term to denote prisons in France. It was located near Hanoi's French Quarter. A 1913 renovation expanded its capacity from 460 souls to 600. It was nevertheless often overcrowded, holding some 730 prisoners on a given day in 1916, a figure which would rise to 895 in 1922 and 1,430 in 1933. By 1954 it held more than 2000 people, and had become a symbol of colonialist exploitation and the bitterness of the Vietnamese towards the French.