12/04/2012 12:04 (GMT+7)
was the seat of power of the Nguyen Emperors who ruled Vietnam from
1802 to 1945, and their impressive Citadel remains partially intact
today despite the ravages of several wars.
Legacies of the city's
dynastic past are everywhere and keep visitors busy with visits to
elaborate tombs and pagodas, mausoleums and assembly halls. Threaded
along the beautiful Perfume River, which flows through the city, these
unique and extraordinary monuments serve as a guide to the lives of
Vietnam's last emperors.
The spectacular Citadel is built on the same
principles and design as Beijing's Forbidden Palace. The ten-meter
thick outer walls enclose a vast compound of palaces, temples, meeting
halls and pavilions, many of which are now sadly victims of war and the
passage of time. The remaining buildings do however give ample clues to
the grandeur and elegance that the walls once hid from commoners.
The city is a traditional seat of culture and learning. Graduates of
Hue's education system include Vietnam's famous general, Vo Nguyen Giap,
and even Ho Chi Minh himself spent some time at Hue's National School.
At around 4 pm each weekday afternoon one of Vietnam's most charming
spectacles plays out as girls dressed in traditional, flowing "ao dai"
dresses leave the university and cycle along the leafy road bordering
the Perfume River.
Hue is a 90-minute plane ride from either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City and is a 3-hour car ride from Danang.
Places of interest
The Imperial City
of the Imperial City, designed for exclusive use by the emperor, his
family, and his retinue, started in 1804. The city is protected by a
series of four enormous outer walls that are 7-10 meters thick. Access
to the walled city is via four arched gates, the best known of which is
the Ngo Mon Gate, built in 1834.
The Imperial City contains a series of palaces, ornate halls, libraries,
residences, and colleges. Much of the City, including the Forbidden
Palace, was destroyed during a vicious battle between opposing forces
during the Tet Offensive of 1968. One can spend an entire afternoon
wandering around the grounds of the Imperial City, viewing the ancient
architecture of the Nguyen emperors and scars of recent battles.
The Imperial Tombs
The Imperial tombs are one of the highlights of Hue, and are more like
small palaces than burial grounds. The architecture of each tomb is
unique, but common themes are a large stone courtyard filled with
life-size statues of soldiers, horses, mandarins and elephants. Inside
the grounds are a pavilion with engraved biographies of the deceased
king written by his successor, and the temple where the king is buried.
Ponds and moats filled with lotus flowers add life to the grounds.
Tomb of Emperor Minh Mang
of the Imperial City was built during the reign of Emperor Minh Mang.
His tomb is located at the juncture of two tributaries of the Perfume
River surrounded by rolling hills. It is said that it took 13 years to
find an appropriate burial site for the Emperor and upon arrival it's
not hard to see why this location was chosen. Set within an exquisitely
landscaped garden it is a tranquil and idyllic place. The site is
considered one of the best examples of Nguyen Dynasty architecture and
Tomb of Emperor Tu Duc
tomb is located in an area of rolling hills and pine trees 7km outside
Hue. The tranquil grounds are filled with trees, ponds and pavilions
where Tu Duc would write poetry. Emperor Tu Duc had his tomb built 16
years prior to his death and actually wrote his own biography prior to
Tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh
Dinh's was the last Mausoleum built during the Nguyen Dynasty, and is
arguably the most beautiful of all the royal tombs. Situated on one of
the Chau Mountains, amidst pine, cassava and sugar cane, Khai Dinh's
tomb is surrounded by natural beauty. Its architecture is a blend of
East and West. It took eleven years to build and was completed in 1931.
Thien Mu Pagoda
Mu Pagoda is one of the oldest religious structures in Hue and is also
one of the most impressive. It was constructed during the 14th century
to worship the legend of a celestial lady. In 1844, Emperor Thieu Tri
added the Phuoc Dien stupa. This seven-storey stupa is 21 meters high,
with each level dedicated to one of the various human forms taken by
Buddha. In the 1930s and 1940s the Thien Mu Pagoda became an important
meeting place for Buddhists. It became well-known worldwide when, in
1963, Thich Quang Duc, a 66 year old resident monk, died after setting
himself on fire to protest anti-Buddhist policies of the government of
South Vietnam. It is best to visit the pagoda by sampan as it sits on
the banks of the Perfume River.
Tu Dam Pagoda
Built by a Chinese monk on the north bank of the Perfume River in 1683,
Tu Dam Pagoda was a popular gathering point for Buddhists during the
protests of the 1960s. In 1963, South Vietnam's President Diem ordered
Catholic armed forces to fire on a group of Buddhists. Thirty monks and
followers were shot. Though the pagoda has been damaged numerous times
during Hue's turbulent past, many areas have been rebuilt.
Hue Museum of Antiquities
Built in 1845, the French converted this former temple into a library,
and then a museum in 1923. The museum now houses a collection of
hundreds of poems, decrees, and valuable relics salvaged from the
Imperial City. On display in the museums front courtyard are various
Nguyen Dynasty statues, gongs, and bells.