Hello back on our traveling blog. Even though Hue is famous for many things, most people visit it to see the Hue Imperial city. The historical site with the Purple Forbidden City in the center. After all, this regional capital is full of priceless national treasures. It truly is a pity to miss the mausoleums and Imperial Tombs of the Nguyen Dynasty in their original form. Indeed, many are connected to the Imperial Citadel and that is the reason we will dive into important facts about the Hue Imperial City itself.
Quick History of Hue
Hue Imperial City was built by the Perfume River, which floats through the scented natural world. Who knows if it was the incredible taste of water or its aroma that Emperor Nguyen wanted to stay in this place. In addition to that, the site got recognized by experts for good omens as well. All of the above plus easy access to the sea. That is why the Emperor further developed Hue, known in the ancient past as Cham. That was a name in use while the Chinese controlled this part of the land. From 1558 on, Hue officially became the seat of the Nguyen family.
After centuries of violent uncertainties coming from family feuds and invaders, Hue became the capital of the Nguyen dynasty in 1802. Harsh lessons were put to use and Hue Imperial City became the most secure fortress in Vietnam’s history. And yes, elephants had an important role in the royal army known as The Guards of the Nguyen Dynasty. In total, Hue was home to 13 emperors, with the last one being the Bao Dai – Emperor of Vietnam.
The last ruling Emperor was only 12 years old when he ascended the crown. At a such young age, it is difficult to imagine the pressures of being in charge of an area we now know as Central and Northern Vietnam. Whether the young emperor liked it or not he had strong ties to the French. We now know they became more than neighbors when the French Quarter was built on the right bank of the Perfume River. Interestingly, all historical sites are located on the right side of the river.
Hue Festival is a big cultural event of Hue City that is held every two years. The Hue festival takes a week, usually in April, May or June. This festival is the occasion to honor cultural and historical values of that Vietnam’s former capital city.
Hue Imperial City
Behind 6 meters high and a meter-thick wall emperor enjoyed the privacy and security of a supreme fortress. The beautiful architecture followed Feng Shui guidelines, by incorporating Five Elements and Five colors. In an enclosed area royal family accepted important guests and took part in ceremonies. Visiting ladies had to enter only through the west gate, while men had a separate entrance and fewer restraints. For example, no woman was allowed to attend ceremonies in the Temple, not even the queen herself.
Inside the Imperial City, the emperor had on hand everything needed for the successful leadership of the country. This included a large library, medical clinic, a few shrines, tea houses, gardens, palaces, waiting hall, offices, and a lake where his 1000 concubines bathed, probably a fitness and much more. Of course, there was also a lotus pond, which was essential for emperors’ traditional Vietnamese tea.
Purple Forbidden City
The forbidden part of the Hue Imperial City is conveniently named the Purple Forbidden City for obvious reasons. As one can guess, only the imperial family was allowed to be there. Well, of course, concubines and servants were allowed to walk the forbidden ground, whenever royals needed assistance. Nevertheless, servants had to be eunuchs that had heartfelt loyalty to the emperor. Entrance to the forbidden inner part of the citadel was possible from the East, West, North, and South. The South gate or Meridian Gate is the main entrance even today. Sadly, the first emperor Gia Long didn’t see the finished version of the Imperial City of Hue. By 1833 the emperor was gone and his descendant was able to see how well did skillful construction experts follow orders and mimicked Beijing’s Forbidden City. Surely, he loved the colorful exterior and intricate ornaments.
The Nguyen Dynasty
The last Vietnamese dynasty was led by the powerful Nguyen family, which influenced cultural heritage. They were the first to write things down and develop a bureaucratic system in the country. The Nguyen dynasty started to rule in 1802 when Emperor Gia Long ascended the throne and ended in 1945. In the meantime, many wars were raging and the country got invaded from near and far. Emperor Tu Doc officially signed three eastern provinces to the French in 1862. Little did he know that this was just the starting point of the French occupation. To the Nguyen emperor’s great disappointment, he was presented with a puppet role in 1884. This was the beginning of the end. The final stage of the Nguyen Dynasty came when Bao Dai abdicated the throne in 1945 and got exiled for the second time ten years later.
Hue Imperial City Today
The difficult past didn’t leave royal premises unscarred. When the monarchy ended in 1945 the real estate was abandoned and therefore suffered heavy damage from violent acts of nature. Needless to say, the Indochina Wars didn’t help either. In 1993 UNESCO recognized the Imperial City and since then the situation has somewhat improved.
New restoration works are on the way and little by little this historical gem will hopefully shine brightly in original beauty. Already, it is hard to believe that 80% of the city was destroyed completely. Other than that, it is easy to imagine the hustle and bustle around water canals. Especially when you step through the vibrant gates and walk around up and down the dragon stairs…
Vietnamese history and culture have a long list and this place is on it many times. Hue certainly is anchored in the past, but with a population of about half a million, it is also looking into the future. Renewal of the mighty Imperial City looks to be a promise of returning golden days. Maybe the restoration of precious ancient capital is the painful missing link to the royal tombs. However, it can also be a reminder of the violent past Vietnamese people had to endure. Even though things in Hue Imperial City aren’t perfect there is still value in them and we warmly recommend you visit it.