Vietnam Law & Legal Forum Magazine is your gateway to the law of Vietnam

Official Gazette

Monday, January 30, 2023

Hue ancient capital, a historical and cultural heritage of Vietnam and the world

Updated: 15:50’ - 06/04/2006

By Thu Huong

Hue city is one of the four largest tourist areas of Vietnam. The agglomeration of Hue cultural relics was recognized by UNESCO on the 11th of December 1993 as a cultural heritage of mankind. Speaking about Hue, the Vietnamese used to understand it as the very history of a royal capital with its unique and oldest system of palatial architectures and mausoleums that still remain in Vietnam. Hue witnessed 143 years of 13 kings of the Nguyen dynasty. Hue also witnessed many other important historical events of the Vietnamese nation.

Hue is located at the center of the Viet country in Thua Thien - Hue province, 680 km south of Hanoi, and 1070 km north of Ho Chi Minh City. It lies on National Highway 1A, an 12 km of the Thuan An seaport.

The architecture of Hue ancient capital wonderfully mixed with the romantic nature of this land. Hue’s natural beauty was extremely attractive with its Huong (Perfume) River and its Ngu (Royal Seat) mountain. It was precisely the Perfume Rive and the Royal Seat mountain the symbolized the strong spirit and the soul of Hue land.

The agglomeration of Hue royal architectures was built in 1805 under the reign of Gia Long, the first Nguyen king. Its construction spread over 30 years and was completed only in 1838. Through the citadel was built in the French Vauban style, its structure and form, especially its architectural details, had a clear Oriental look, to mention only the watch tower and the palace.

The Hue citadel lies on the left bank of the Perfume River within a perimeter of nearly 10km and a land area of over 500 hectares. The whole citadel was divided into three sectors: Phong Thanh (Defense) citadel, Hoang Thanh (Royal) citadel and Tu Cam Thanh (Forbidden) citadel. The one looking on the south had the Ngu Binh mountain as its protective shield. The outermost sector was the Defense citadel, square in form, about 2,500 m each side, and enclosed within a wall 8m high with 10 gates. It was surrounded by a system of canals called Citadel Protection rivers totalling 7km in length connected with the Perfume river. This was a huge and solid fortress meant to defend all activities of the Nguyen Court. There were inside the citadel various offices and institutes, namely the Quoc Tu Giam school (National University), the Bao Tang (Museum), the Co Mat (Secret Institute) and the Quoc Su Quan (House of National History). Inside the Defense Citadel was the Royal Citadel area. The Royal Citadel and the Forbidden Citadel were also called the Great Interior or Royal Palace.

Only after entering deep into this Royal Palace can people have the chance to admire those original, majestic, luxurious and harmonious features, the sculptures and carvings of some 100 famous palatial architectures of real national character. The Royal Citadel was also in square form, 600m on each side and with 4 gates. The front gate was the Ngo Mon (Midday) gate. On the back and either side were the  Hoa Binh (Peace), Hien Nhon (Manifest Benevolence) and Chuong Duc (Virture) gates. Behind the Ngo Mon gate were palaces and temples: the Thai Hoa place where Court sessions were held, the Kham Van palace where the King came to read books, the Can Chanh palace where the King received civil mandarins and military officers, the Co Ha (Esplanade) Garden, the Thai Mieu and The Mieu temples where all predecessors of the Nguyen kings and lords were worshipped, and the Hien Lam Cac, a monument to record the biographies and merits of all those persons who had in the past contributed to the founding of the Nguyen dynasty.

Inside the Royal Citadel was the Forbidden Citadel, also built in square form about 300m on each side. The citadel wall was 3.50m high. It was meant to shield the royal family life from the outside world. There were in the Forbidden Citadel some 50 architectures of different sizes which were considered as the most magnificent pieces of art in the country. There were around the citadel 7 gates, the main of which was the Greater Arch, then came the Can Thanh Palace (the King’s residence), the Dien Tho Palace (Queen Mother’s residence), the Khon Thai Palace (Queen’s residence), the Kien Trung, Quang Minh and Trinh Minh Palaces.

There were also in the citadel the Tinh Tam (Quiet Heart) Lake, the Fragrant Lotus Garden and the Tang Tho (Literature Repository), and a large library of the Court.

Ngo Mon (Midday) was the main gate of the Royal Citadel. It was an imposing and refined architectural project built in 1883, a huge castle that added to the majesty of the Court. The Ngo Mon central gate 5.32m high was reserved for the King. The two adjacent gates on the left and the right were reserved for high civil mandarins and military officers, and two others called service gates were reserved for the troops. All these gates were built on a single foundation. The upper part of the Ngo Mon gate was a tower called Ngu Phuong (Five Phoenixes Tower painted crimson and plated with gold. The two stories were built in the form of the character “Mon” (Gate) and their 9 roofs had the form of flying phoenixes. The main story of the Five Phoenixes tower was made of three compartments and two aisles, the aisle on the right for the drums, and that on the left for the bells. The Ngo Mon gate had its roof covered in the middle part by gold plated tiles and on both sides blue enameled tiles.

The Ngo Mon gate is an important historical and revolutionary Hue relic. It was here that on the afternoon on the 25th of August, 1945, Bao Dai (the last king of the Nguyen dynasty) submitted his abdication, and handed over both his seal and sword to the Government delegation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, putting an end to the feudal regime in Vietnam. The same place witnessed on May 15, 1975 a mass meeting of 50,000 Hue people celebrating the total liberation of the South and Vietnam’s reunification.

In front of the citadel was the Phu Van tower, commonly known as Phu Van Lau. Phu Van Lau was built in 1819 under the Gia Long Court, looking on the Perfume river. It was here that orders and instructions of the King and also the lists of new graduates from royal examinations were posted up. Sessions of “longevity ceremony” (i.e. the King’s birthday) were held here. In the past, there was in front of Phu Van Lau a house called Nghinh Luong Hall for the King to take fresh air. This house looked on the Perfume River with a landing stage called Van Lau wharf. The wharf was a rendez-vous for Nguyen Duy Tan a patriotic king of the Nguyen, to meet with members of the Tran Cao Van insurrectionist movement, and discuss their plan of fighting against the French colonialists. The conspiracy was unfortunately betrayed, and the King was arrested and deported to a Pacific island.

On the western side of Hue royal citadel, there was the Nam Giao Altar for the worship of the Sky and the Earth. In the past, the King came here once every three years to say his prayers. On this occasion, not only the Hue population, but also rich families from other provinces also came to attend the ceremony.

On the South and Southwest of the citadel and on both banks of the Perfume River were 8 mausoleums, and each of them is an original architecture spreading on a large area of several hundreds of hectares. They are the mausoleums Gia Long, Minh Mang, Thieu Tri, Tu Duc, Kien Phuc, Dong Khanh, Khai Dinh and Zuc Duc.

The Hue mausoleums are often described as the most brilliant specimens of Vietnam’s ancient architecture. They could be seen as outstanding representations of the Oriental outlook on life. More than that, they represent what is the best of the ancient cultural heritage legated by the Vietnamese ancestors testifying to the creative and magnificent craftsmanship of the Vietnamese at the time.

There are many other famous relics outside Hue citadel, among them palaces and mausoleums like: the Nam Giao Altar of the Tay Son era, 620km west of the Ngu Binh (Royal seat) mountain; the Ho Quyen (Tiger Arena) where the Nguyen kings used to organize battles between elephants and tigers; the Hue Temple of Literature (regrettably only one stele with the names of doctors still remains); the Ho Chen palace; the Hung Bac Common House; and the Hue Banner Tower.

Hue was once the capital city of Vietnam’s Buddhism. There remain hundreds of pagodas, and each of them is a beautiful scenery impregnated with the Buddhist philosophy and Oriental culture. The history of all these pagodas is closely related to that of the nation. The most famous of them are the Thien Mu and Truc Lam pagodas.

Though time and war have done great damage to the Hue architectures, Hue remains an invaluable relic of Vietnam’s culture and art. Hue has been recognized by the Vietnam State as one among 15 most important historical sites of the country and ranks first in cultural artistic value.

Restoration of Hue has begun with the assistance of UNESCO.-


Send Us Your Comments:

See also:


Vietnam Law & Legal Forum