Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Hue is located in Thua Thien prefecture and is in the central part of Vietnam. Located 660 km from Ha Noi and 1080 km from Saigon, Hue has always been considered the fulcrum of Vietnam's two rice baskets, the Red river delta and the Mekong delta. Hue became the name of Vietnam's most well known ancient capital because of the local mispronunciation of the word Hoá in Thuâ.n Hoá.

Since the 16th century, Thuan Hoa, due to its strategic location, has been a very prosperous area. The Nguyen Lord chose this area to be their headquarters. Nguyen Anh made it Vietnam's capital city in 1802 after he defeated the Tay Son and ascended to the throne with the name Gia Long. King Gia Long (1762-1819) was credited for building and fortifying Hue from the very beginning. Since then, successive king of the Nguyen Dynasty has added to the foundation set by his predecessors.

Cultural Heritage

Although Hue has sustained much damage from natural disasters and wars, the city and most of the architecture remain. As a capital city, Hue is relatively young since the Nguyen dynasty only ended some 50 years ago (1802-1945). Of the ancient capitals in Vietnam, Hue is the only one that still has the intact appearance of a complex of the monarchic capital consisting of walls, palaces, and royal tombs. Consequently, Hue is among Vietnam's most valued national treasure in terms of history and heritage.
In 1981, after visiting Hue, Mr. Amadou-Mahtar-M'Bow, then Director General of UNESCO proclaimed Hue to be "a masterpiece of urban poetry". On December 11, 1993, UNESCO's Director General, Federico Mayor acknowledged the Complex of Monuments of Hue to be a World Culture Heritage.

The Citadel

Based on the ancient practice of geomancy, the Citadel was designed and planned around the natural elements in the area north of the Perfume river. The complex faces southeast, taking Mount Ngu Binh (Royal Screen Mount) as a natural screen. Two islets in the Perfume river, Ta Thanh Long (Left Green Dragon) and Huu Bach Ho (Right White Tiger) play the role of sentinels for the Citadel. The construction of the Citadel took place from 1805 to 1832.
The Citadel is a square enclosure with a circumference of 10,000 m, a height of 6.6 m and a thickness of about 21 cm. The center of the wall is packed with dirt while the outer shell is built with bricks. There are ten gates to access the Citadel each with a two story watch tower. The gates are named according to their direction of exit. The southeastern gate is also known as Thuong Tu gate, The Eastern gate is also called Cua Dong Ba etc...The Citadel was built to accommodate 24 bastions with over 400 canons.

Ngo Mon - Midday Gate

Ngo Mon was constructed in 1833 during the reign of Emperor Minh Mang. The gate leads to the Imperial Palace and was the observation point for the Emperor to review his troops and for ceremonial use.

Midday Gate is divided into two levels. At ground level, the gate actually has five entrances. The one in the center is used only by the king. On each side are two entrances used by mandarins, soldiers and horses. On the second level is Lau Ngu Phung - the Five-Phoenix Pavilion. The king reviewed his troops and subjects under the center hall of the pavilion. The roof of this hall is covered with gold enameled tiles. The two halls flanking the center hall were reserved for other members of the court.

Dien Thai Hoa - Palace of Supreme Harmony

The Palace of Supreme Harmony houses the thrones of the 13 emperors in the Nguyen Dynasty from Gia long to Bao Dai. It was built in 1805. The palace and San Dai Trieu (Esplanade of Great Salutation) were the site for all major festivities such as Coronation Ceremony, the Emperor's birthday, and where the king held court during the first and fifteen day of the lunar month. On these occasions, the king sat on the throne located in the palace, and the mandarins lined the court according to their rank and title from first to ninth grade, civil mandarins on the left and military mandarins on the right.

The Royal Tombs of Hue

The Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945) is the last of Vietnam's Royal families. In all, there were 13 kings, however, due various reasons, only seven had tombs. The seven imperial tombs were planned and constructed in a hilly region southwest of the Citadel. Gia Long, Minh Mang, Thieu Tri, Tu Duc, Duc Duc, Dong Khanh and Khai Dinh all had a tomb built. All tombs were constructed during the reign of the respective kings for which they were named. Each tomb was laid out with statues and monuments in perfect harmony with one another to form a poetically natural setting. The following elements were incorporated in all the tombs: walls, triple gate (Tam Quan Gate), Salutation Court, Stele House, temples, lakes and ponds, pavilions, gardens, and finally the tomb.

In 1957, Les Merveilles du Monde (France) published a list which included the royal tombs of Hue as part of the World's Wonders. Unfortunately, most of the artifacts in the tombs have been stolen by the French and local bandits.

Minh Mang

The height of the Nguyen Dynasty was reached during the reign of Emperor Minh Mang (1820-1840). His tomb was built 12km from Hue in four years (1840-1843). The king had the plans drawn and the location chosen by the royal advisor, the mandarin Le Van Duc. The king passed away as construction commenced. His successor, the Emperor Thieu Tri sought the completion of the project.
It took ten thousand soldiers and artisans to complete the project. The tomb consists of about 40 monuments of various sizes; all lie within an oval shaped wall with a circumference of 2000m. A walk of about 700m in length bisects the interior of the complex into two equal halves. Along it are the Salutation Court, Stele House, Sung An Temple, Minh Lau Pavilion, and the tomb itself being at the very back of the complex.

Tu Duc

Born in 1829, Emperor Tu Duc had the longest reign of all in the Nguyen Dynasty. The King died in 1883 after 35 years on the throne. Built between 1864-1867, his tomb includes 50 monuments surrounded by a 1500m wall.

Emperor Tu Duc was an expert in eastern philosophy, history, and literature. He left 4,000 verses and 600 proses, yet during his reign he the king failed to gain the respect of the citizens. It was during the construction of his tomb that the soldiers and artisans rebeled and joined Ung Dao (a distant cousin of the king) in the attempt to overthrow the king.
Being a romantic, the king immersed himself in the world he created at the site of his tomb. The king ordered the construction of his tomb to be a fairyland with poetical features, making it a lifetime dream and a world for his eternal life after death.

Architectural features of Tu Duc Tomb include poetry elements in free form. It was designed to blend with the natural setting of the landscape. Man-made elements were built and placed in strategic areas to achieve perfect harmony.

Khai Dinh

Emperor Khai Dinh (1885-1925) ruled Vietnam for 9 years. His tomb took 11 years to complete. Construction began in 1920 and was completed in 1931. Under Khai Dinh, Western culture and influence began to seep into Vietnam. The king himself visited France in 1922. As a result, his tomb has many elements of Western architecture. In fact, of all the tombs, Khai Dinh's probably least resembles oriental architecture.
Emperor Khai Dinh's tomb is built using concrete, its roof with slates and the gate is made of wrought iron. The builder made use of the lighting rod and electricity is used to light the place. Beyond these modern building materials and designs, the tomb had elements of eastern art mixed with western designs.
Throughout the interior of the tomb, colored glass and ceramic chips were used to form mosaics of oriental design. The ceilings were hand painted much like the ceilings of western churches, but the designs were of dragons and clouds. In the book, 'Art Vietnamien', Emperor Khai Dinh's tomb was cited as an example of Vietnamese "neo-classicism".

Chua Thien Mu - Heavenly Lady Pagoda

According to legend, the people around this area used to see a vision of an old lady appearing on the hill where the pagoda now sits. Upon seeing people, she always said that someday a great leader would build a pagoda at this site to bring peace to the country. One day, when Lord Nguyen Hoang passed by this area, upon hearing the story, he ordered the construction of the pagoda in 1601. He named it Chua Thien Mu - Heavenly Lady Pagoda.
Overlooking the southwest bank of the Perfume river, the Pagoda has two sections. The front of the Pagoda can be accessed from the Perfume river and has the Phuoc Duyen tower which can be seen from many points in Hue. This area also houses the great bell which was cast in 1710. It also has the turtoise bearing a great stele carved in 1715.
The rear of the pagoda is the main hall where Buddha is enshrined. It is also an area where the monks of the temple live and practice Buddhism. The Pagoda was the center of Buddhism in central Vietnam. In 1963, in a defying act against the Diem regime, Thich Quang Duc burned himself in downtown Saigon. Today, the car that took him to Saigon is stored in the rear of Thien Mu Pagoda.

Hue in literature

Hue and the Perfume river have been the topic for many songs and works of literature. Because the city was built around the river, the lives of the people often revolve around this famous river.
To the Vietnamese people, Hue is always synonymous with romance and all that's beautiful. Hue is also famous for the school girls in their white Áo Dài - Vietnamese national dress, with their Tóc Thê - long flowing hair, and their Nón Bài Tho - a conical straw hat with a poem written inside that can only be read when held up to the light.

No comments: