Destinations, Travel log, Vietnam

The Imperial City of Hue


The Emperor Gia Long took control of Vietnam at the end of the 18th century and set the beginning of the Nguyen dynasty that lasted up to 1945. He started the construction of the construction of his citadel in 1804 after consulting geomancers (aka earth divination) to find the most suitable place: Hue was chosen. The citadel was built as to face the Huong River (better know as the Perfume River)

The site

Map of Imperial City

10 gates lead inside the Imperial City. The Citadel has a perimeter of 2.5 km and is protected by 8km of 2 meters thicks stone walls. Its puposes was to protect the main palaces.

The Forbidden City is in the heart of the complex. This is where the Emperor and his family stayed as well as the court’s workplace.

Unfortunately the city of Hue got trapped in the Vietnam War opposing the South to the North of the country. Although both sides tried to preserve the Imperial City at the beginning of the war, the fighting necessities led the Citadel to be in the heart of the conflict and divided between the 2 armies. Out of the 160 buildings only 10 survived this violent battle such as the Thái Hòa and Cần Thanh temples, Thế Miếu, and Hiển Lâm Các.

The Imperial City became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 and has since undertaken a series of renovation projects to rehabilitate the damaged buildings. An interesting fact was that governments of specific countries were sponsoring the rehabilitation of some of the buildings, such as Government of Poland and Government of Germany.

What did we think of the Imperial City?

It’s huge! And the renovation work has been done beautifully! So many little details everywhere, colors, sculpture, statues, paintings… everywhere you look there is something beautiful and different. In some area, each single window has been carved differently. Animals, flowers, mosaics, geometrical figures, gold decorations… the diversity of patterns is impressive. If you like this kind of places, you should allow yourself a few hours to wander around …and a lot of energy. Maybe a good pair of snickers also 🙂

An interesting coincidence

Duy Tan emperor photo
Duy Tan emperor after his coronation ceremonyl.
throne imperial city hue
The throne of the Imperial City in Hue

During our visit we got appalled by this picture of the young Emperor Duy Tan. On this picture he was only 7 years old and he looks like he has no clue what is happening.

Later on I read about his story. He was sacred that young because the French forced his not-so-submissive father into exile hoping that the kid would be easier to control. Unfortunately as a teenager Duy Tan started questioning the French power, encouraged by the influence of the mandarin Trần Cao Van. They even started plotting against the colonialists but unfortunately the French discovered about it. While the treaters were all beheaded, Duy Tan was exiled with his father to… Reunion Island! Say what??? That’s my maternal home-place!

It is funny to imagine that this little boy who caught my attention during this visit may have crossed the path of my ancestors.

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