Hue was the seat of power of the Nguyen Emperors who ruled Vietnam from 1802 to 1945, and their impressive Citadel remains partially intact today despite the ravages of several wars. Legacies of the city’s dynastic past are everywhere and keep visitors busy with visits to elaborate tombs and pagodas, mausoleums and assembly halls. Threaded along the beautiful Perfume River, which flows through the city, these unique and extraordinary Royal Citadel served as a guide to the lives of Vietnam’s last emperors.
The Imperial City
The city is protected by a series of four enormous outer walls that are 7-10 meters thick. Access to the walled city is via four arched gates, the best known of which is the Ngo Mon Gate, built in 1834. The Imperial City contains a series of palaces, ornate halls, libraries, residences, and colleges.
Construction of the Imperial City, designed for exclusive use by the emperor, his family, and his retinue, started in 1804.
Much of the City, including the Forbidden Palace, was destroyed during a vicious battle between opposing forces during the Tet Offensive of 1968. One can spend an entire afternoon wandering around the grounds of the Imperial City, viewing the ancient architecture of the Nguyen emperors and scars of recent battles.
The Tomb of King Tu Duc
It is one of the most beautiful works of royal architecture of the Nguyen dynasty. The tomb lies in a boundless pine forest, 8 km from Hue.
Tu Duc’s tomb is located in a narrow valley in Duong Xuan Thuong village .
Inside the surrounding wall about 12 hectares wide, nearly 50 constructions were built on terraces of various levels (about 10m difference). All constructions include the word Khiem (Modesty) in their names.
Thien Mu Pagoda
Although the 21-meter tall tower is the centerpiece of the temple, the history of Thien Mu extends back to 1601, when the temple was founded by Nguyen Hoang, governor of Thuan Hoa province.
Thien Mu pagoda overlooks the Perfume River and the beautiful scenery beyond.
Legend says that Nguyen Hoang built the temple to fulfill a prophecy from a ‘fairy woman’ (Thien Mu) that a great lord would arrive to build a pagoda for the prosperity of the country.
The Tomb of King Khai Dinh
The tomb represents a fusion of traditional Vietnamese style and modern influence. Begun in 1920 and completed in 1931, the tomb is almost entirely made of concrete and includes many European architectural details, likely inspired by the Emperor’s visit to France in 1922 where he viewed the Marseilles Colonial Exhibition.
This is the final resting place of Khai Dinh, Emperor of Vietnam from 1916-1925.
Thien Mu Pagoda
It was constructed during the 16th century to worship the legend of a celestial lady. In 1844, Emperor Thieu Tri added the Phuoc Dien stupa. In 1963, Thich Quang Duc, a 66 year old resident monk, set himself on fire to protest anti-Buddhist policies of the South Government.
Thien Mu Pagoda is one of the oldest religious structures in Hue and is also one of the most impressive.
Tu Dam Pagoda
Tu Dam Pagoda was a popular gathering point for Buddhists during the protests of the 1960s.
Built by a Chinese monk on the north bank of the Perfume River in 1683.
Thanh Toan Bridge
This was reportedly established during the reign of Emperor Le Hien Tong (1740-1786) and has been maintained by the village ever since. Construction of the bridge was initiated by Tran Thi Dao, the wife of a high-ranking Mandarin in Le Hien Tong’s court.
Thanh Toan bridge is located about 7 kilometers to the east of Hue in Thuy Thanh Commune, Huong Thuy district.
Tran, who came from this area, had the bridge constructed to better facilitate transportation and communication in the village that lines both sides of the canal. When the Emperor heard of her charitable act, he exempted the village from taxation as a reminder for them to live up to her example. In 1925, Emperor Khai Dinh granted her a posthumous title and ordered the villagers to establish an altar on the bridge in her memory.