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Historical Vestiges of Hue City
Hue has chosen to be the capital city of the Southern Kingdom by all Nguyen Lords and officially became the capital under Tay Son'reign. 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.
Situated on the Northern bank of the Perfume River, with an area of 500 ha and a system of three circles of ramparts, namely from outside to inside: Kinh Thanh (Capital Citadel), Hoang Thanh (Royal Citadel) and Tu Cam Thanh (Forbidden Citadel).
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' reign, Kings have ordered to build ramparts, palaces and constructional works of royal. Over 200 years to now, it is still original with nearly 140 small and large constructions.
The Citadel, square in shape and almost 10 km in circumference, 6 m high, 21 m 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):
The Imperial City is located in the centre of the Citadel where established highest offices of Viet Nam'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. Noon Gate is only used for the King. Royal Palace consists of more 100 beautiful constructional works divided many sectors.
Tu Cam Thanh (Forbidden citadel):
Located inside the Imperial City, behind the Throne Palace, the Forbidden Purple City is reserved for Emperor and his family. Constructed early in Emperor Gia Long'reign in 1804 with brick walls 3.72m high, 0,72 m thick, about 1,230 m in circumference. Its front and back sides are 324 m each while either left and right side is more than 290 m including 50 architectural constructions of different sizes and 7 gates for facilities of entrance and exit. Dai Cung Mon (the Great Place Gate) is in the front side for Kings. Can Chanh Palace (the place for every day 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 King' food), Thai Binh Lau (King's reading room)... Besides, Hue is also famous for royal tombs and temples of Nguyen Kings. Seven tombs with different aspect are not 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 cultural heritage of World.
Pavillion of Edicts
It is the building where Emperor's edicts and lists of successful candidates of Thi Hoi (National Examination) and Thi Dinh (Court Examinations) were publicised.
Situated right in front of the Flag-Tower and by the National Highway No. 1 which crosses Hue capital 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.
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 Noon
Gate, 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
The Nine Dynastic Urns
These are the nine greatest bronze urns in Vietnam placed in the shade of the Hien Lam Pavilion, in front of the The Mieu Temple.
They were cast by Emperor Minh Mang in 1836 to symbolize the sovereignty of the dynasty.
Each of them is named after the
posthumous title of the emperors
worshipped in the Dynastic Temple. For
example, Cao Urn is named after Emperor
The To Cao (Gia Long), Nhan Urn after
Emperor Thanh To Nhan (Minh Mang),
Chuong, Anh, Nghi, Tuyen and Thuan Urns
after Emperors Thieu Tri, Tu Duc, Kien
Phuoc, Dong Khanh and Khai Dinh
respectively. (Until 1958 only seven
altars were established in The Temple
corresponding to seven urns. Du and
Huyen Urns did not exist yet.)
After their casting, the Nine Dynastic
Urns were placed in accordance with the
disposition of the altars in the Temple.
Cao Urn stands in the center, alone in
the first row. The others line behind
and are placed symmetrically on both
At first sight, the nine urns are almost alike, but in fact, they all differ in weight and size:
Hien Lam Pavilion (Pavilion of the Glorious Coming) is a graceful monument situated in the center of the Dynastic Temple’s courtyard, southeast of the Citadel.
Built in 1824 by Emperor Minh Mang, at the
same time as the Dynastic Temple, it consists of three stories. The
lower story has three compartments, the middle one, two, and the top
floor, only one.
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.
Throne Palace and Great Rites Court
The Throne Palace, or Palace of the Supreme Harmony, was the building for great court's meetings. It faces the Noon Gate and lies right on the central axis of the Citadel.
It was constructed in 1805 by Emperor Gia Long and used later in 1806 for his coronation.
In 1833, it was moved onto a foundation of 2.33m high by Emperor Minh Mang. It is 44m long, 30.50m large, 11.80m high and contains a 5-compartment, two-bay main building connected with a 7-compartment, two-bay front building. The columns are lacquered red and decorated with golden dragon designs. On the roof ridge rest two dragon designs paying homage to the moon. Eaves and roof corners are ornamented with head-turning dragon designs. These and the moldings along the eaves are inlaid with multicolored ceramic chips. The roof is covered with yellow enameled tiles.
Over the middle compartment hangs a carved board with big Chinese characters "Thai Hoa Dien" (Palace of Supreme Harmony). Inside is the throne, covered by a golden canopy with brocaded circular dragon designs. Above each compartment hangs a colorful glass-sided hexagonal or octagonal lantern. In 1839, in an attempt to adorn this historic monument, Emperor Minh Mang ordered the framework to be lacquered red and gold. It was later supplied with European-styled paving by Emperor Thanh Thai, in 1899, and colored glass door on front and back sides by Emperor Khai Dinh , in 1923. (It was originally left open and shaded with blinds only). The interior decorations include some jugs and other antiques. On the court stands a line of carved pedestals, each with a vase for rare plants. Constructors of the Throne Palace have succeeded masterly in creating two contradictory features: cool in summer and warm in winter. From the throne in the center, one can also distinctively hear sounds made anywhere in the palace. Of this phenomenon, no researcher in acoustics or architecture could ever give an exact explanation.
The lower terrace, beside the Trung Dao (Central Path) Bridge, is for elders and village authorities in ceremonial occasions. At both corners of the court stand two bronze Kylins. Kylin is traditionally a harbinger of peace and a reminder of ritual solemnity.
Between Noon Gate and the court is the Thai Dich Lake(Grand Liquid Lake), dug in 1833 and spanned by the Trung Dao (Central Path)Bridge. The bridge, secured by iron banisters, connects the two monuments. At both ends we find a gateway elaborately carved with five-clawed dragon designs in high relie.f (dragons among clouds on bronze columns). Though symmetrically built, the two columns with two dragons, one slithering down and one soaring up really create an attractive liveliness.
The Throne Palace is the site where solemn ceremonies took place such as: the Coronation Day, the Crown Prince Coronation Day, the Ambassador Receiving Ceremony, Emperor's Birthday Anniversaries, etc. Great meetings were held here twice a month while regular ones took place in the Can Chanh Palace (Palace of Audiences) behind the Great Golden Gate.
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 Noon Gate, 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, banian 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.
Noon Gate 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, etc.
On the side of the road passing the Noon Gate 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.
Noon Gate was seriously damaged during the
wars and underwent several restorations.
The Flag Tower
The Flag Tower, also called the King’s Knight, is the focal point of Hue city. It is commonly known as a flagpole, but viewed from the Imperial City, it is really a huge structure of three flat-top pyramids, one lying on top of another.
It was built during Emperor Gia Long's
reign, in 1807, and later improved by his son, Emperor Minh Mang.
According to the Thuc Luc (Nguyen Dynasty's Chronicle), the flag-tower
is 17.40 m high and consists of three terraces. The first is 5.60 m
high, the second ,5.8 m, and the third, 6 m. The higher the terrace, the
smaller its surface. On the third terrace, are 8 little buildings
housing one canon each and two sentry-boxes at opposite ends.
Situated southwest of the Citadel and facing south, The Mieu Temple is 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 It is roofed with yellow enameled tiles and on the ridge rests a wine gourd decorated with Phap Lam enamel.
The Mieu Temple once had seven
red and yellow lacquered altars (one in the middle, three on either
On January 25, 1959, at the request of the royal family and the people, a ceremony was held to admit to the temple mortuary tablets of Ham Nghi, Thanh Thai, and Duy Tan, three anti-French Emperors. So, there are today three additional reddish-lacquered altars for them in the temple.
East of the temple 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 Temple 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 temple 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.
Farther is the main entrance to the temple guarded by two stone Kylins (mythical animals)
Many personal paraphernalia of great value which belonged to the Nguyen Emperors are kept in the temple. On each altar were once dozens of gold ingots. Fortunately enough, the temple has suffered the least damage through the numerous wars and today visitors can see it as it was originally built.
Nam Giao Esplanade
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 Courd 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 Court had its first God worship ceremonies there.
Nam Giao Esplanade is an open-air monument - The model of architecture bears both the religious and political significance of Oriental feudalism. Nam Giao Esplanade was built based on the dogma of heaven fate of Confucianism. 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 heaven, square earth, blue heaven, 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. During the ceremony, there were 128 students and dancers. 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, Thanh Thai dynasty 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 communal in Thua Thien-Hue were ordered to complete making triumphal arches, to put alters on both sides of the route where the Emperor would pass by from Ngo Mon Noon gate to Trai Cung (Fasting Palace).
For each ceremony, the Emperor came to the Fasting Palace to stay there for three days prior to ceremory. 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 2 a.m. 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.
The royal Library is the pavilion where the Emperor 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 for another building known 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 a very poetic scenery.
The Royal Library was the only monument left
undamaged in the Forbidden Citadel after the reoccupation of Hue by
French troops in early 1947.