Guide about Hue
Area:5,054 sq. km
Population:1,119,800 habitants (2004)
Capital: Hue City
Districts: Phong Dien, Quang Dien, Huong Tra, Phu Vang, Huong Thuy, Phu Loc, Nam Dong, A Luoi.
Ethnic groups: Viet (Kinh), Ta Oi, Co Tu, Bru Van Kieu, Hoa.
Thua Thien-Hue Province is located in Central Vietnam. It is next to Quang Tri Province to the north, Danang to the south, and Quang Nam Province to the south-west. This province leans up against the Truong Son mountain range and is washed by the East Sea, along its 120km seashore.
The weather is submitted to tropical monsoon climate divided into four distinct seasons: fresh spring, very hot summer, mild autumn and windy, cold winter. The dry season lasts from March to August. It is hot with temperate rarely reaches to 39.5ºC. The rainy season lasts from September to February. It is quite cold with average temperature is 19.7ºC, but sometime down to 8.8ºC. In this time, it rains a lost, sometime lasts all day. If tourist would to avoid rainy, they come to Danang City, 108km from south of Hue. In the mountain area, the weather is cool with the annual temperature is between 9ºC and 29ºC. The most convenient time to visit the area is from November to April.
Thua Thien-Hue offers very diversified and beautiful landscapes. Nature and human beings create a harmoniously beauty with Bach Ma (White Horse) National Park and other attractive beaches such as Thuan An, Lang Co and Canh Duong.
The province provides a well-balanced blend of royal heritage and folk culture. As a matter of fact, tourists discover dozens of handicraft villages, with annual festivals that are painstakingly organized.
Hue is also an important center of Buddhism. In Hue and its surrounding still exist tens of pagodas constructed more 300 years ago, and hundred of temples and pagodas built in the early 20th century.
Besides, tourist is able to enjoy many traditional famous dishes and find out about sophisticated handicraft here.
Nha nhac) has been declared as a World Intangible Cultural Heritage since November 2003.
Transportation by train, road, air and water routes is very convenient.
Thua Thien-Hue Province is 658km from Hanoi, 1,080km from Ho Chi Minh City, 108km from Danang. The province has the National Highway 14 that links Hue with Central Highlands. It is also on the National Highway 1A that connects Hanoi and Ca Mau.
Train: The Thong Nhat Express trains from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh stop at Hue Railway station. The local trains come to some other provinces.
Air: Phu Bai Airport serves flights: Hue - Ho Chi Minh City and Hue - Hanoi.
Dieu De Pagoda
Location: Dieu De Pagoda is located at 100 Bach Dang Street, Phu Cat Ward, Hue City, between Dong Ba and Gia Hoi Bridge.Characteristic: The pagoda includes a main sanctuary with two statues of the Deity Eight Vajra.
Dieu De Pagoda was built by King Thieu Tri in 1844 on the platform of 5,000m² in his old residence, where he was born in 1807. It was constructed on a large scale, but was badly damaged during the successive wars. In 1889, Bonze Tam Truyen was granted fund by King Thanh Thai to restore the pagoda, but once again, it was badly damaged during a storm, in 1904. The present construction was made in 1953. Behind the pagoda is a guest-room and a kitchen. In the courtyard stand a stele house and a bell tower. The two-storey entrance gate is topped with Dhamma Guardian's pavilion.
Dieu De Pagoda was the third site listed by King Thieu Tri in the 20 beauty spots of Hue.
Dynastic Temple (The Mieu)
Location: Dynastic Temple (The Mieu) is situated southwest of the Hue Citadel and facing south.
Characteristics: It's dedicated to ten Emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty, built by Emperor Minh Mang in 1821, it presents a 9 - compartment main building and a 11 - compartment front building, together connected in the "double" architecture with two bays on east and west sides.
The Mieu is roofed with yellow enameled tiles and on the ridge rests a wine gourd decorated with Phap Lam enamel. It once had seven red and yellow lacquered altars (one in the middle, three on either side). -The middle altar was dedicated to Emperor Gia Long and his two Queens (Thua Thien and Thuan Thien).
-The first altar (left) was dedicated to Emperor Minh Mang and Queen.
-The first altar (right) was dedicated to Emperor Thieu Tri and Queen.
-The second altar (left) was dedicated to Emperor Tu Duc and Queen.
-The second altar (right) was dedicated to Emperor Kien Phuc.
-The third altar (left) was dedicated to Emperor Dong Khanh and Queen.
-The third altar (right) was dedicated to Emperor Khai Dinh.
East of The Mieu is the Canh Y Palace. West of it is a square-shaped chapel for the worship of the God of Earth. A wall runs all around The Mieu with the Khai Dich Gate (Gate of Bringing Up) on the east, the Sung Thanh Gate (Gate of Peace Honoring) on the west, the Hien Huu Gate (Gate of Recognizable Assistance) (left) and Doc Huu Gate (Gate of Genuine Assistance) (right) at the back. In the yard of The Mieu stand the Nine Dynasty Urns. Behind them is a wall with the Hien Lam Pavilion (Pavilion of Glorious Coming) in the middle. Left of this pavilion is the Tuan Liet Gate (Gate of Grandness) topped by a belfry and right of it is the Sung Cong Gate (Gate of Honorable Achievements) with a drum-tower atop (The temple is architecturally similar to Thai Temple). Outside of the Hien Lam Pavilion are the Left and Right Houses, dedicated to meritorious mandarins who had devoted themselves to Nguyen Anh (later known as Emperor Gia Long) and his successors. The Left House honors the four royal family members Ton That Man, Ton That Dien, Ton That Huy and Ton That Hoi. The Right House is dedicated to Vo Van Tanh, Ngo Tung Chau, Chau Van Tien, Vo Di Nguy, Nguyen Van Truong, Pham Van Nhon, Nguyen Huynh Duc, Tong Phuc Dam, Nguyen Van Man, Do Van Huu, Nguyen Van Nhon, Mai Duc Nghi and Truong Dang Que, accepted by Emperor Minh Mang in 1827.
On January 25th, 1959, at the request of the royal family and the people, a ceremony was held to admit to The Mieu mortuary tablets of Ham Nghi, Thanh Thai and Duy Tan, three anti - French Emperors. So today there are three additional reddish-lacquered altars for them in The Mieu.
Many personal paraphernalia of great value which belonged to the Nguyen Emperors are kept in The Mieu. on each altar were once dozens of gold ingots. Fortunately, The Mieu has suffered the least damage through the numerous wars and today visitors can see it as it was originally built.
Hermitage Bien Duc Thien An
Location: Hermitage Bien Duc Thien An is situated on the Thien An Hill, between the tombs of Thieu Tri and Ming Mang, about 6km from the southwest of Hue ancient capital.
Characteristics: The Hermitage Bien Duc Thien An, usually name Thien Duc Hermitage, has been founded in Summer 1940 by the Bien Duc French hermits with the name of Thien An (Peace from Heaven).
The hermitage is formerly managed as an infirmary and a school. To day the hermitage is only a place for religious formation.
The hermitage is surrounded by a quiet pine forest. Walking in this Thien An pine hill, the tourist would think he is somewhere in the forests around Da Lat. Here is the Thuy Tien Lake, and there the Luu Ly Lake, all this contribute to enhance the charm, the poetic and dreamy spell of the Thien An Hill, making it a tourism and entertainment site.
The hermitage with this quiet and silent environment helps its members to deepen in their religious meditations, and also creates more favorable conditions to all those who come here to fray and search for peace of mind.
Hien Lam Pavilion
Hien Lam Pavilion (Pavilion of the Glorious Coming) is situated in the center of the Dynastic Temple’s courtyard, southwest of the Hue Citadel.
Characteristics: Built in 1824 by Emperor Minh Mang, at the same time as the Dynastic Temple, Hien Lam Pavilion consists of three stories.
The pavilion stands on a 21m by 13m square-shaped foundation. The area amounted to 300m² including the roof overhang. In front, on the stairs (9 steps each) joining the court, each flight is divided by two slithering dragon designs into three passages, the middle one being exclusively reserved for the Emperor. The ground floor is paved with Bat Trang bricks. It has three compartments and two bays surrounded with plastered brick walls. These are ventilated by windows similar in shape and decorated with enameled open-work bricks. The three compartments are left open and garnished with ornamental wooden banisters. Systems of rafters and panels are exquisitely engraved with floral designs.
Hien Lam Pavilion can be considered as a memorial to those who had devoted their lives to the establishment of the Nguyen Dynasty. The Emperors Nguyen are honored in the Dynastic Temple while meritorious mandarins are honored in the Left and Right Houses on either side of the Hien Lam Pavilion. Because of the holiness of the Pavilion, the Emperors Nguyen had decreed that no other construction built in the Citadel should be higher.
Hon Chen Temple
Location: Hon Chen Temple is standing just on the bank of the Perfume River inclined to poetic dreams and 10km upstream of Hue City.
Characteristic: Hon Chen Temple for cult of Po Nagar, the Goddess of the ancient Cham minority. After then, the Vietnamese continued the cult and name the Goddess as Heaven Goddess Y A Na.
This temple for Goddess appeared in this place centuries ago, but with a very simple design, and after then, reconstructed with a larger and more beautiful architectural scale in 1886.
Hon Chen Temple is situated at a lovely site seated on the slope of the mountain Ngoc Tran (Jade - cup) with sheer cliff and mirroring in the deep blue water of the Perfume River.
Location: Hue Citadel is situated on the Northern bank of the Perfume River.
Characteristic: With an area of 500ha and a system of three circles of ramparts, namely from outside to inside: Kinh Thanh Hue (Hue Capital Citadel), Hoang Thanh (Royal Citadel) and Tu Cam Thanh (Forbidden Citadel).
Hue has chosen to be the capital city of the Southern Kingdom by all Lords Nguyen and officially became the capital under Tay Son Dynasty. For approximately 400 years, Hue has become a great landscape and architectural site. Hue royal complex has been officially recognized by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Ngu Binh Mountain in the south is used as a front screening elevation. Two sand dunes of The Con Hen and Con Da Vien on the Perfume River are chosen as geomancy condition "dragon on the left, tiger on the right" to protect the capital city.
Kinh Thanh Hue (Hue Capital Citadel)
This construction stared in 1805 under the reign of Emperor Gia Long and completed in 1832 under the reign of Emperor Ming Mang. Under Nguyen Dynasty, the Kings had ordered to build ramparts, palaces and constructional works for royal. Over 200 years to now, it is still original with nearly 140 small and large constructions.
The Citadel, square in shape, is almost 10km in circumference, 6m high, 21m thick and 10 entrances. on the top of the walls that surround it, 24 bastions are established for defensive purposes. Besides, the Citadel has an ancillary gate connecting the Tran Binh Bastion called the Thai Binh Mon (Peace Gate).
Hoang Thanh (Royal Citadel or Imperial City)
The Imperial City is located in the centre of the Citadel where established highest offices of Vietnam's feudalism and sanctums honouring the cult of decreased Emperors. The Citadel, also has a nearly square form, with more than 600m long for each side, built of brick 4m high, 1m thick, around which is ditched a system of protection trench. Access to the Imperial City can be made by four entrance gates. Ngo Mon Gate is only used for the King. Royal Citadel consists of more 100 beautiful constructional works divided many sectors:
- Sector for the Ngo Mon Gate and the Thai Hoa Palace: This is the place for setting up various grand ceremonies.
- Sector for worship shrines of the Kings Nguyen: Trieu Mieu, Thai Mieu, Hung Mieu, The Mieu and Phung Tien Temples.
- Sector for internal affairs office: Storehouse for precious objects, workshop for manufacturing various useful articles.
- Sectors for the Kham Van Palace and the Co Ha Garden: place where the princes are studying or enjoying.
Tu Cam Thanh (Forbidden Citadel)
Located inside the Imperial City, behind the Throne Palace, the Forbidden Purple Citadel is reserved for Emperor and his family. Constructed early under reign of Emperor Gia Long in 1804 with brick walls of 3.72m high, 0.72m thick, about 1,230m in circumference. Its front and back sides are 324m each while either left and right side is more than 290m including 50 architectural constructions of different sizes and 7 gates for facilities of entrance and exit. Dai Cung Mon (the Great Palace Gate) is in the front side for the Kings. Can Chanh Palace (the place for daily working of Emperors). Can Thanh (Emperor's Private Palace), Khon Thai Residence (Queen's Private Apartment) reserved for the Queen. Duyet Thi Duong house (Royal Theatre), Thuong Thien (the kitchen for the Kings' food), Thai Binh Lau (King's reading room)...
In addition, there are also famous royal tombs and temples of Kings Nguyen outside Hue Citadel. Seven tombs with different aspect are not only a wonderful arch but also combining beautiful, imposing nature and poetic of Hue. Ancient Hue including Perfume River and Ngu Mountain, palaces and citadels, tombs and temples with hundred of historic years are being embellished and recovered by material contribution of Vietnamese and International community in order to keep Hue City as World cultural heritage.
Hue Royal Fine-arts Museum
Location: Hue Royal Fine-arts Museum is located on 3 Le Truc Street, Hue City.
Characteristic: The Hue Royal Fine-arts Museum is a gallery of antiques displaying collections of bronze, pottery, chinaware, Phap Lam enamel, court robes, head-gear and personal belongings of former Vietnam Emperors.
It is a 7-compartment, 2-bay building constructed in the "double" architecture, originally called the Long An Palace (Emperor's Security) in the Bao Dinh Residence of Tay Loc precinct. When French troops took Bao Dinh Residence for their headquarters in 1885, Long An Palace was removed and materials were stored. But, in 1909, by order of Emperor Duy Tan, they were moved to the present-day site (3 Le Truc St.)
It served later as the Khai Dinh Museum in Emperor Khai Dinh's time, in 1923. The building (former Long An Palace) housing the museum is a monument of remarkable value. The wooden panels are covered with 35 poems and essays composed by Emperor Thieu Tri.
Hue Temple of Literature
Location:Formerly, various Temple of Literature were built by the Nguyen Lords in the capital and moved to three different places: Trieu Son Village, Luong Quang Village and Long Ho Village.
Characteristic: The Temple of Literature is a worship temple founded by the Nguyen
Dynasty to dedicate to celebrated scholars of Confucianism.
In 1808, Gia Long and his Imperial Court decided to choose a low hill beyond the Thien Mu Pagoda, on the left bank of the Perfume River, i.e. the current position, to built a new imposing and striking Temple of Literature. The construction of the Temple of Literature was commenced on April 17th, 1808 and finished on November 12th, 1808.
The Temple of Literature faces south. All main constructive works were built on the top of the hill, three meters higher than the surrounding land. In front of it was the Perfume River, in the back was villages, hills and mounts spreading from Truong Son Range. All items of Hue Temple of Literature were erected on a square surface of 160m long on each side enclosed by La Thanh (surrounding wall). There was once a complex of 50 big and small constructions including 32 steles which bore names of doctors and four other steles.
The Temple of Literature was many times renovated and many sub - constructions were built, especially in Minh Mang and Thieu Tri's time. From Minh Mang's time onwards, National Examinations were held so that steles bearing the names of successful candidates were erected here. These "Tien si de danh bia" - "Steles bearing doctors' names" were gradually erected on the yard of the main temple from 1831 to 1919, the year in which the last National Examinations was held in Khai Dinh's time.
As destroyed by the war and weather, the remains of the Temple of Literature are now the 34 steles of great cultural and historic value. on these steles are names, ages and places of birth of 239 successful candidates in National Examinations organized in the Nguyen Dynasty.
Hue Temple of Literature is valuable historic remains. To visit it, tourists can understand more about the tradition of knowledge appreciation, scholars’ administration and study encouragement of our ancestors from the old time.
Nam Giao Esplanade
Location: Nam Giao Esplanade is located about 4km south of Hue City.
Characteristics: Nam Giao Esplanade is an open-air monument. It was built based on the dogma of heaven fate of Confucianism and has architecture of both the religious and political significance of Oriental feudalism.
In the Nguyen dynasty, right after being crowned (1802), Emperor Gia Long built the terraces in An Ninh Village in 1803 to offer ceremonies to God. A few years after that, the terraces left that position and had new terraces built in Duong Xuan Village in the south of Hue Citadel (the remains are still preserved).
The Esplanade construction was commenced on 25th March, 1806. At the beginning of 1807, Gia Long terraces had its first God worship ceremonies there. The structure of the terraces also shows the misunderstanding deriving from old thoughts on the Universe of the prior times: circular heavens and square earth.
Nam Giao Esplanade faces south. Its surrounding stone wall has four big open doors looking at four directions. In front of each door, one very big screen (12.5m wide, 3.2m high, 0.8m thick) was erected. During the ceremony, big flags with different colours were on all these doors: black flags on the north door, blue on the east, red on the south and white on the west.
The sacrifice offering Esplanade was designed with three terraces, one on top of another symbolizing oriental theory of three agents: Heaven, Earth and Man. Each terrace had its own shape and colour: circular and blue heaven, square and yellow earth. The topmost is circular, and is called Vien Doanh, symbolizing Heaven. The surrounding parapet was painted blue. on the ceremony day, people built on this layer a conical tent with blue cloth called Thanh Oc. Right below is a square terrace called Phuong Dan, representing the Earth. The surrounding parapet is painted yellow. on the sacrifice offering day, a square house with yellow cloth roof smaller than the yellow tent was erected. The three layers are 4.65m high in total. Shapes colour and directions of the architecture of Nam Giao Esplanade were based on the principles of Yin and Yang and five basic elements (Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth).
From Gia Long's time (1802-1819) the ceremony was organized in the first weeks or the first month in lunar calendar every year. Since 1890, for realizing that such a ceremony was too costly, the reign of Thanh Thai organized it once every three years: in the years of Rat, Cat, Horse and Rooster. It took the Protocol and Administration Ministries many months to prepare for the ceremony. For some days prior to the sacrifice offering day, all villages and commune in Thua Thien-Hue were ordered to complete making triumphal arches, to put altars on both sides of the route where the Emperor would pass by from Ngo Mon Gate to Trai Cung (Fasting Palace).
For each ceremony, the Emperor came to the Trai Cung to stay there for three days prior to ceremony. In Bao Dai's time, the duration was reduced to one day. The Emperor came from the citadel to Trai Cung accompanying by a procession called Ngu Dao including from 1,000 to 5,000 people. The King sat on the sedan carried by royal soldiers in the middle path. When the Truong Tien Bridge had not been built yet - the procession crossed the Perfume River by Buoy Bridge made temporarily by boats.
The main Ceremony began officially at 2am and lasted nearly 3 hours. All the sacrifice offering terraces of the Ly, Tran, Le, Tay Son dynasties do not exist any more. Nam Giao esplanade of the Nguyen dynasty is the unique one left relatively undamaged. To visit it, tourists can have a chance to understand more about many aspects of the cultural and spiritual life of the Vietnamese feudalism.
Pavilion of Edicts (Phu Van Lau)
Location: Pavilion of Edicts is situated right in front of the Flag -Tower and by the National Highway No.1A which crosses Hue City.
It is a delicate pavilion with a south view. In front of the Pavilion is a large court leading to the Nghinh Luong Pavilion (Pavilion for Fresh Air) on the Perfume River bank.
There had once been a tiger - elephant duel on the pavilion grounds in 1829 to entertain Emperor Minh Mang. In his fortieth and fiftieth birthday anniversaries, many entertainments were also held there. These practices were maintained by Emperors Thieu Tri and Tu Duc in their birthday anniversaries. Emperor Thieu Tri listed the Perfume River and the Pavilion of Edicts among 20 most beautiful sights of the capital city of Hue. It was him who ordered in 1843 the construction of a stele house on the right of the pavilion for engraving his poem "Morning Boating on the Perfume River".
It is the building where Emperor's edicts and lists of successful candidates of Thi Hoi (National Examination) and Thi Dinh (Court Examinations) were publicized. Though built early in Emperor Gia Long's reign (1819), it was first decided by Emperor Minh Mang to be the site to publicly display his important edicts.
After having been announced at the Throne Palace or the Ngo Mon, the edict was put in a canopied palanquin and carried by soldiers to the pavilion. on that occasion, the Thua Thien Province mandarins and thousands of local elders crowded to pay homage to the edict. Since 1821, after the Proclamation Ceremony, lists of successful candidates were posted there. In order to enhance the significance, two stone steles were erected on both sides of the pavilion, inscribed with Chinese characters meaning "Tilt Your Hats and Dismount" reminding passers-by to tilt their hats and get off their horses when passing this monument.
The pavilion was destroyed by a typhoon in 1904 and restored later by Emperor Thanh Thai.
Principal Gate (Ngo Mon)
Location: Principal Gate is located in front of the Throne Palace and facing the Flag Tower.
Ngo Mon is the main entrance to the Imperial City. Ngo Mon is a huge construction, U-shaped and consisting of two parts: below is a foundation made of brick, Thanh and Quang stone, above is a pavilion made of wood and roofed with tiles.
The longest and widest sides of this 5.2m high foundation are 50m and 27m respectively. Ascent to the top can be made by two open stone staircases on both sides. There are five entrances, the main one being Ngo Mon, paved with Thanh stone, and with red-lacquered doors reserved for the Emperor. The two side-entrances, the Left and Right Gates, were for civil and military mandarins and, inside the branches of the U, are two more gates used by soldiers, elephants, and horses on the royal procession. The upper part is the Ngu Phung Pavilion (Pavilion of Five Phoenixes) in the middle, flanked by two wing belvederes of two stories.
Viewed from above, the pavilion resembles a group of five phoenixes with beaks joining and wings widespread. They form two rows, two roofs each surrounded with a roofed gallery. The middle section of the roof is covered with yellow enameled tiles and others with dark green ones. Along the roof ridges are designs of head-turning dragons, banyan leaves and bats with golden coins. Panels along the eaves are decorated with ceramic mosaics of prunes, orchid, chrysanthemum and bamboo. They are bright and harmonious, and very resistant against the rains, typhoons and the passage of time.
The upper story is supplied with wooden partitions and was exclusively reserved for the Queen Mother and the Emperor's wives. They could look through windows shaped like circles, gongs or fans, but blinds prevented them from being seen from the outside.
The lower story was left open except for the middle compartment which is paneled and supplied with glass-doors. There sat the Emperor on festive occasions. Behind his seat were a big bell and a large drum, which enhanced the importance of the ceremonies. Besides, the drum was often used to herald closing-time of the Imperial City. At this signal, sentries would fire the cannons of the Flag Tower and close, or open, the gates of the citadel. Two Chinese characters meaning "Ngo Mon" on the front of this construction had originally been gilded with genuine gold. All structural components such as partitions, columns rafters’ doors and banisters are lacquered red and yellow.
Ngo Mon was also the site where the Emperor received homage from his subjects and ceremonies took place such as: Ceremony of Proclamation of Doctor Lists (successful candidates in the national examination), Calendar Offering Day… on the side of the road passing the Ngo Mon stand two stone steles inscribed with "Tilt Your Hats and Dismount" reminding passers-by to tilt their hats and get off horses when passing this sanctum.
Ngo Mon was damaged during the wars and underwent several restorations.
Royal Library (Thai Binh Lau)
Location: Royal Library is located in the Forbidden Citadel
Characteristic: The Royal Library was the only monument undamaged in the Forbidden Citadel after the reoccupation of Hue by French troops in early 1947. It is the pavilion where the Emperors Nguyen came for reading and resting.
In 1821, by order of Emperor Minh Mang, a building was erected west of the Thieu Phuong Garden (Garden of Lingering Aroma), called the Tri Nhan Mansion (Mansion of Intellect and Mercy). It was later improved and renamed Thanh Ha Thu Lau (Writing Pavilion) by Emperor Thieu Tri, and then, by Dong Khanh as the Royal Library.
This pavilion, elaborately decorated with ceramic mosaics, faces a square-shaped pond with a lovely rock-garden. Left of the pavilion stands the Tu Phuong Vo Ngu Pavilion (Pavilion of No Worry) and right of it is the Hoa Nhat Thu Truong Gallery (Gallery of the Nourishing Sun). on the left of the Bat Phong Pavilion (Pavilion open to Eight Directions) is a small structure called the Luc Tri Than Thong Belvedere and on the right is the Than Tu Room (Morale Improving Room). North of it is the Luc Giac (Hexagonal) Pavilion with Trach Trung Tasist Temple (Temple of Just Conduct) on the left. In front of this temple is the Duc Vien House (House of Full Virtue). Bridges and galleries are together connected; lakes and ponds smoothly flow into one another in very poetic scenery.
Hue - La destination du monde
Prior to WWII, Hue had been the capital of Vietnam and the residents of this city act as if Hue still is. The city has a long and distinguished history. During the Tet Offensive in 1968 the North Vietnamese flag flew from the citadel flag pole for 25 days. When the Americans returned to re-take the city, Hue was virtually destroyed in over ten days of terrible conflicts. The film "Full metal jacket" has much of the major fighting set in Hue, and accurately represents just how completely devastated the city was. It is estimated that over 10,000 people were killed during this battle including thousands of people rounded up by the North Vietnamese as ‘undesirables’ and shot or buried alive. The city has now been mainly rebuilt and no real signs of the Tet Offensive remain except for the virtual destruction of the Imperial city.
Hue citadel The Imperial Tombs
Imperial city Tomb of Tu Duc
Forbidden City Tomb of Minh Mang
Thien Mu Pagoda Tomb of Khai Dinh
The construction of Hue Citadel was commenced in 1801 by Emperor Gia Long. This followed a period during which the Nguyen Lords moved the capital around the surrounding area. Since the initial construction, the citadel has been altered and improved upon by a number of Emperors including Emperor Minh Mang, whose tomb is not far from modern day Hue city.
Unfortunately, Vietnam’s history of war has boded ill for the citadel, and much of the interior, particularly the Forbidden Purple City, has been destroyed. It was during the conflict with the Americans that some terribly bloody and vicious fighting took place, which flattened a lot of the inner city. However, some parts do still remain and will give you an idea of what a magnificent imperial capital Hue must have been.
The Citadel is almost 10 km in circumference and its walls are 6 m high and 20 m thick. The moat encircles the entire Citadel and is 23 m wide with a depth of 4 m. There are ten entrances to the citadel, many of which are now bridges and roads into the Citadel area (where people live and farm).
The Imperial City was constructed in 1804 and is square in shape, with a perimeter of nearly 2.5 km. It has four entrances: the Noon Gate that is opposite the flag tower, the Gate of Humanity on the left side, the Gate of Virtue on the right hand side, and the Gate of Peace at the rear. The city is surrounded by the Golden Waters pond that flows into the lakes at the northern corner of the city. Each gate has a bridge spanning the Golden Waters, whilst the Noon Gate has three bridges. In imperial times, the centre bridge was for the use of the Emperor alone, whilst the other two bridges were for the use of his entourage.
Once you enter via the Noon Gate, separating you from the Great Rites Court is the Thai Dich Lakes (Great Liquid Lakes). These were dug in 1883 and are spanned by a central bridge, the Trung Dao (Central path) Bridge. The bridge has two ornately designed gateway, carved with dragons slithering up and down them.
The Great Rites Court (also known as the Esplanade of Great Salutation) consists of two paved terraces. The upper was reserved for high ranking civil and military mandarins, whilst the lower was for village officials and elders. The steles on each side of the court indicate where each official’s designated place was. At the two corners of the court stand two bronze Kylins, which are believed to bring peace.
Beyond the Great Rites Court there is the Throne Palace. This was used on meetings. During these meetings, the Emperor would sit on his throne whilst only four top ranking officials were allowed in the palace. The remainder of officials had to stand outside according to rank. The palace was seriously damaged during the Tet Offensive.
Behind the Throne palace is where the Great Golden Gate once stood, marking the entrance to the Forbidden Purple City.
The imperial City was not destroyed to the extent of the Forbidden Purple City and there are number of temples still standing, although some are locked up due to their instability. These include Trieu Temple, Thai Temple (a reconstruction), the Residence of Everlasting Longevity, Phung Tien Temple, Mieu Temple, and the Hung Temple
Unfortunately most of the Forbidden Purple City was completely destroyed during the Tet Offensive. Most of what remains is no more than the foundations of what must have once been grand buildings. There are a number of smaller buildings that were spared complete destruction, and there are some attempts at restoration going on (and so there should be, given the admission price).
Before its destruction, the Forbidden Purple City was used solely by the emperor and his family. It was originally constructed during the reign of Emperor Gia Long and was known as Cung Thanh (City of Residences). It was not until the reign of Emperor Minh Mang that the name Forbidden purple City was adopted.
The City has seven gates linking it to the Imperial City. From the Great Golden Gate, you will enter a large paved area, backed by the foundations of everything that used to be there. To your left and right there are two small buildings that house many artefacts of the City. In the left house, you can dress up as an Emperor and have your photo taken sitting on a throne (really makes you wonder sometimes). There are only a handful of buildings within the city that have been completely destroyed.
Thien Mu Pagoda
This pagoda overlooks the southwest bank of the Perfume River, around 4km south of the railway bridge crossing. This was the home of the Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc, who burnt himself to death in protest to the Ngo Dinh Diem regime. The motor car that took him to the site of his self-immolation in Ho Chi Minh City in 1963 is out back. The pagoda has been adopted as the symbol of Hue City and is very popular with both foreign and local tourists, hence the trinket sellers and beggars out front. Behind the pagoda is a lovely garden and a large glass encased smiling Buddha. To the left of the pagoda is a huge bell dating to the 18 century and is said to be audible 10 km away.
The road to Thien Mu Pagoda runs along the bank of the Perfume River and is great for a late afternoon ride as many boats are returning upriver. The light is just great so take your camera. The road also passes by a Portuguese church and also a mid sized fresh produce market, which stocks excellent fruit.
The Imperial Tombs
Hue was the imperial centre of the Nguyen Dynasty which was founded in 1802 by Emperor Gia Long, and lasted until 1945. The banks of the Perfume River around the Imperial City became the royal graveyard for the thirteen rulers of this area. The majority of Vietnamese practice ancestor worship, regarding death as a passage into another existence. They believe the layout of a tomb affects the soul’s journey to the spirit world, and the fortunes of the living relatives are determined through formal ceremonies to the dead and protection of the tomb. Desecration of a tomb would have detrimental affects upon both the living ancestors and the souls chance of reaching the ultimate resting place in the spirit world. The tombs of the Emperors were even more important as their position would determine the future of the Dynasty. The Emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty there fore established their own Valley of the Dead, which is believed to be protected in both the physical and spiritual worlds.
Tomb of Tu Duc
Tu Duc was the Emperor of Vietnam from 1848 to 1883. He is regarded as one of the more decadent cruel Vietnamese Emperors. Although he was a dedicated Confucian, his lifestyle was unusual in all areas. At each mail he would have a choice of fifty dishes that were delivered by fifty servants and prepared by fifty chefs! He had over one hundred wives and quite a few girlfriends on the side, although he never had children. When Tu Duc drank tea, the water was collected as dew from lotus leaves. He also had one of his brothers put to death after his involvement in a revolt against him. His tomb was constructed between 1864 and 1867 and is own of the more grandiose tombs in Hue City’s surrounds. In an attempt to foil grave robbers, his body was not even buried in the tomb, and all those who were involved in the burial were beheaded. His body and treasures are at a destination that remains unknown.
The centrepiece of the tomb is a huge stone tablet that is estimated to weigh over twenty tonnes upon which are inscribed various clarifications of his rule. There are also a number of temples and other buildings within the tomb grounds, along with a nice lake with an island in the centre. Towards the end of his rule, Tu Duc spent a lot of time on this island and generally within his tomb, accompanied by his entourage. The tomb of Tu Duc is about 7 km out of the centre of Hue city.
Tomb of Minh Mang
Minh Mang Emperor ruled from 1820 to 1840 and was responsible for some of the major construction upon the Imperial City. It was also the actions of Minh Mang towards the Catholic missionaries which first brought French military power to bear on Vietnam. The ground of his tomb are large and peaceful, and his actual bomb oversees the Lake of Tranquillity. The first entrance is guarded by a life size stone entourage of soldiers, horses and elephants, and opens to a courtyard containing three temples. Past the temples, you will cross Trung Minh Ho (The Lake of Impeccable Clarity) which is bridged in three places. The central bridge was for the sole use of the Emperor whilst the other two were for his entourage. Beyond the pond there is Sung An Temple that Minh Mang dedicated to his Empress. Following this temple you need to cross another bridge before reaching his tomb that is a huge walled-in dirt mound, which you cannot enter. To give Minh Mang peace of mind whilst ruling, all his servants were eunuch.
Tomb of Khai Dinh
Khai Dinh Emperor ruled from 1916 to 1925, and his tomb majestically appears from the side of a mountain covered by forest. Unfortunately, the tomb lacks the harmonious blending with nature that many of the other tombs and Vietnamese architecture tries to achieve. This is due to the fact that the tomb was built earlier this century during the French colonial occupation and under their influence. The weather-stained and blackened concrete walls make the tomb seem older than it actually is, but the different style of Khai Dinh’s tomb makes it worth a visit.
The tomb is layered, and each stage is divided by stairs. The entrance to the tomb begins with a long climb up from the street level staircase that is bound by dragon banisters. This opens up onto a courtyard, but it is the second level that has a stone statued entourage made up of life size mandarins, horses and elephants. You must contend with more stairs to get to the main part of the tomb and to where Emperor Khai Dinh is buried. The Khai Dinh temple is 10 km south of Hue City, and a sealed road passes straight past its entrance. The view from the top is quite beautiful, looking at the plains and surrounding mountains. The large white statue farther south standing on a hillside is of Quan Am, the Goddess of Mercy.