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Hue, the poetic city of Vietnam

20/04/2020 1.259 Views
Former capital of Vietnam until 1945, Hue occupies a special place in Vietnam. Compared to a living museum thanks to its rich history and the conservation of its heritage, Hue will be an unmissable stop to discover the charms of Central Vietnam!

Located in central Vietnam, Hue is the capital of the province of Thua Thien-Huê. The city is located in an area with a tropical monsoon climate. Out of the rainy season, it is a perfect place to fill up on vitamin D in the imperial capital and its beautiful surroundings.

The Perfume River is known to have inspired many poems. On the banks of the Perfume River, Song Huong, the city is surrounded by five hills symbolizing the five elements (wood, fire, air, metal, water). The hill of the south plays a special role of protection against the harmful magical influences attributed to this direction.

History of Hue

Considered as the heart of Vietnam’s cultural heritage, the history of the city of Hue is incredibly rich and goes back to the ancient times of Vietnam.

Its first steps as a city of first importance date back to the time when Hue became the center of the Chinese imperial administration in the 2nd century AD. It momentarily became the capital of the Cham Kingdom, then will finally be attached to what was still called the Dai Viet in 1036. Already capital of the Nguyen lords since the 16th century, it will finally be chosen as the capital of the reunified Vietnam by King Gia Long in 1802.

In 1885, the city was burned and looted by the French; the forbidden city was completely destroyed. Hue will then become the capital of the Annam Protectorate during French Indochina. After the abdication of the last emperor Bao Dai in 1945, the city definitively lost its status as an imperial capital (it would lose its status as the capital of Vietnam in 1954 to Hanoi).

The story doesn’t end there. Over the centuries, the city has become a symbol of architectural delicacy and the cultural richness of the country, making it a main target of external attacks. In 1947, the city and the forbidden city will once again be looted by the Viet Minh. Finally, it was attacked during the Tet offensive on 29 January 1968, where 2 500 inhabitants were massacred; that day, the imperial city was once again partially destroyed by American bombardments.

The Imperial City of Hue

The residence of the Nguyen, the last imperial dynasty of Vietnam, its construction took 30 years and the work of thousands of men.

Perfectly oriented according to the cardinal points based on the Chinese model of the Ming, and opening by ten doors, it is formed by three concentric elements: the citadel, the imperial city (Kinh Thanh) and the purple city (Tu Cam Thanh), respective domains of the Mandarin hierarchy, the imperial family and the emperor.

Despite repeated destruction, the Forbidden City remains a precious witness to the country’s history and a well-preserved monument. Listed as a World Heritage Site since 1993, it has undergone some renovations by UNESCO, revealing the past splendour of the monument. Converted into a real museum, you will find rich and interesting documentation on the history of Vietnam.

The Thien Mu Pagoda (Pagoda of the Celestial Lady)

Nestled on the banks of the Perfume River, the Thien Mu Pagoda is one of the oldest of its type in the country and its tower is known as the symbol of the city. 

It is also known to house the car that the monk Thich Quang Duc borrowed to go to Saigon and set himself on fire in protest against the government of Ngo Diem.

The Nguyen Tombs

The Nguyen tombs are an important part of Hue’s cultural wealth. According to Vietnamese beliefs, the tomb of the deceased must reflect the same image as his home during his lifetime. The imperial tombs are thus of a very special magnificence and will make you admire the Vietnamese architectural style over the ages. There are 7 imperial tombs for the 13 emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty.

Although called «tombs», we do not know where the bodies of past emperors are hidden. No one had the right to know exactly where the emperor’s final resting place would be. The servants who carried the body of the emperor accompanied their sovereign in death, as the last guardians of secrecy. For example, the 200 servants who had built the Tomb of Tu Duc were all decapitated to never let escape the secret of their king’s last resting place.

Almost all of the tombs were built during the reign of their occupiers, and generally encompass several other burials.

Tomb of Gia Long

The Tomb of Gia Long is characterized by the simple and sober style of architecture.

Built from 1814 to 1820, the tomb is of an simply impressive in size of 207 200 m2. It stretches over exactly 42 hills and is divided into 3 separate parts whose central one contains the mausoleum of the king and queen.

About Gia Long

1st king of the Nguyen dynasty, he was at the origin of the choice of Hue as capital and the name «Vietnam». 

Founder of the most glorious and powerful dynasty in Vietnam, it is said that Gia Long made his tomb a remote and naturally protected by the hills place, so that his body could not be found by the previous Tay Son Dynasty that he had overthrown.

Tomb of Minh Mang

The Tomb of Minh Mang is considered as one of the most beautiful of the Nguyen tombs. It was finished by the son of Minh Mang, Thieu Tri, who reflected in his construction his love for his father, as well as his glory and military conquests.

Completed in 1843, 1 year after the king’s death, the complex measures 341,500 m2 and has 40 monuments. The beauty of the place begins at the famous Dai Hong Mon Gate, exquisitely decorated. As for the other tombs, the central door, traditionally reserved for the king or important figures, was opened only once to let the body of the king pass.

About Minh Mang 

4th son of Gia Long, he was recognized as the heir to the throne and became emperor in 1820. He is known for his fierce resistance to the opening of the country to the West and for making his country one of the most powerful empires in Southeast Asia. The territory of the Dai Viet was in fact at its territorial peak during its reign, including almost all of Laos and Cambodia. He is now considered the most brilliant emperor of the dynasty.

Tomb of Thieu Tri

This tomb is a mix of the sobriety of the Tomb of Gia Long and the sophistication of the Tomb of Minh Mang. Built in 1848, it also has monumental dimensions of 279,000 m2. Unlike the other tombs, this one was built after the king’s death and took only 10 months to be completed, against several years for most other imperial tombs.

About Thieu Tri

Thieu Tri was a good king close to his people. In contrast to his predecessors and successors, he did not make preparations for his eternal rest, for which he did not want to waste the money of the country. The construction of the tomb therefore began only a few months before his death; it is a simple tomb, close to the city center, because Thieu Tri wanted it easy to access for the workers working on its construction.

The Tomb of Tu Duc

The Tomb of Tu Duc is probably one of the most peaceful and romantic of all the Nguyen tombs. Measuring 129,900 m2, the complex took 20 years to be built and also served as a secondary residence for the Emperor and his large female court. The Tomb includes the largest epitaph of the country, written by the Emperor himself and describing his unlucky life.

About Tu Duc

Though emperor, Tu Duc was indeed relatively unlucky. It was during his reign that his country definitively lost its power for the West and to add to this disgrace, the emperor could never have a son, despite his hundred wives and concubines. It is indeed said that the king contracted smallpox during his childhood, which permanently affected him, preventing him from conceiving an heir.

The Tomb of Khai Dinh

The Tomb of Khai Dinh is the last tomb built for the Nguyen Dynasty. Before the last emperor of his dynasty, who had lost most of his effective powers to the benefit of the French settlers, Khai Dinh had a tomb built mixing in a complex way the modern and traditional style. Measuring 181 900 m2, it is not at first sight the most sumptuous of all, but the richness of the interior of the buildings quickly refute this first impression.

Hue today

Hue is now a reference for tourism in Vietnam, attracting visitors by its almost intact cultural heritage. Just like the monuments, the cooking continues to make the Vietnamese imperial era alive as well as traces of the influence of the Cham Kingdom.

In addition to its cultural richness, Hue is a beautiful, peaceful city, whose surroundings alternate between hills, river, and lush vegetation growing under the warm sun of central Vietnam. The nightlife is very dynamic and the many restaurants will delight you with the most refined local dishes during your stroll in the city center.

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