Introduction to Hue, Travel Tour Vietnam
Unlike Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh and most other Vietnamese cities, HUÉ
somehow seems to have stood aside from the current economic frenzy and, despite
its calamitous history, has retained a unique cultural identity. It's a small,
peaceful city, full of lakes, canals and lush vegetation and some magnificent
historical sights – including the nineteenth-century walled citadel, the
remnants of its once-magnificent Imperial City and seven palatial Royal
Mausoleums. With all this to offer, Hué is inevitably one of Vietnam's
pre-eminent tourist destinations. It's also the main jumping-off point for
day-tours of the DMZ, as well as a springboard for buses to Savannakhet and
Laos, via the Lao Bao border.
In 1802, Emperor Gia Long, founder of the Nguyen dynasty, moved the
capital from Hanoi and built his Imperial City in Hué. From then on, the Nguyen
dynasty ruled Vietnam from Hué until the abdication of Emperor Bao Dai in 1945,
though the French seized the city in 1885, leaving them as nominal rulers only.
During the 1968 Tet Offensive the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) held the
city for 25 days, and in the ensuing counter-assault the city was all but
levelled. Seven years later, on March 26, 1975, the NVA were back to liberate
Hué, the first big town south of the Seventeenth Parallel. The huge task of
rebuilding received a boost in 1993 when UNESCO listed Hué as a World 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. n
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
verlooking 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.
he 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.