Being constructed for nearly 2 centuries and destroyed during wartime, the Citadel of Hue still keep its original look. The Citadel was recognized as national historical – cultural relics on May 12th, 1998 and considered as one of the most important art architectures in Hue Monuments Complex, world heritage.
1. Imperial City – area surrounding the Forbidden City
Hue, regardless of the phase has always been a place imbued with a sense of history. And it is almost the only place that still preserves (most fully) the architectural structures of the feudal era, as it was the capital of the last dynasty in Vietnamese history – The Nguyen Dynasty.
To be more precise, there are three rounds:
– The outer round is enclosed by moats and is called the Citadel (locals in Hue often distinguish between “inside the city” and “outside the city”). It was built with bricks and has a circumference of about 10 kilometers, marked by current roads such as Tran Hung Dao – Le Duan – Dang Tat – Dao Duy Anh – Huynh Thuc Khang. The entrance to the inner city is through the city gates, accessed via bridges. There are a total of 24 fortresses and 10 city gates, including the main gates: East Gate, West Gate, South Gate, and North Gate.
– The next round is the Imperial City (located within the Citadel) – the area where visitors purchase tickets for sightseeing. It has a circumference of 2,452 meters (622 meters long from front to back, 604 meters long from left to right). It is surrounded by walls and moats with 4 entrances (Ngo Mon, Hien Nhon, Chuong Duc, Hoa Binh) and protruding fortresses. The walls are made of bricks, 4 meters high and 1 meter thick.
– The innermost round is the Purple Forbidden City (located within the Imperial City) – with a circumference of 1,228 meters (324 meters long and 290 meters wide). It does not have a system of surrounding moats.
Typically, it takes about half a day to visit (if not too detailed).
The Imperial City is the area located within the Citadel, where the Kings and Queens of the Nguyen Dynasty lived, worked, and carried out other activities. The Nguyen Dynasty lasted for 143 years and was the last dynasty in Vietnam from 1802 to 1945. The Imperial City is situated on the northern bank of the Perfume River. It has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage site.
The Imperial City was built in the 19th century under the reign of King Gia Long and completed during the time of King Minh Mang.
After winning and unifying the country, King Gia Long (Nguyen Anh) decided to choose Phu Xuan as the capital and to build a new capital to demonstrate the authority and power of the Nguyen dynasty. In 1803, the decision to build Dai Noi Hue was made.
King Gia Long and the high-ranking Mandarin Nguyen Van Yen conducted a survey of the actual terrain of Hue in 1803 and 1804. In the summer of 1805, the construction of the imperial city began and lasted for many years. The Imperial City was given priority in construction starting in 1804.
The construction process was not continuous and was basically completed under the reign of King Minh Mang in 1833, with approximately 147 structures.
The Imperial City of Hue can be considered the most magnificent structure in the history of Vietnam to date. With hundreds of ancient architectural works, it is a place that preserves the imprint of the 13 kings of the Nguyen dynasty over 143 years.
In 1993, The Imperial City of Hue was recognized by UNESCO as part of the Complex of Hue Monuments, a World Cultural Heritage site. Today, The Imperial City is a popular tourist destination, attracting visitors from all over the world, and is still considered one of Vietnam’s top architectural structures of the feudal era.
2. Forbidden City – Historical value and unique Architecture
Continuing from the previously published Part 1, Part 2 showcases the images and information of The Purple Forbidden City, located within the Imperial City of Hue.
The Purple Forbidden City situated within the Imperial City, served as the daily living quarters for the Nguyen kings and the royal family. It was constructed in the third year of Gia Long’s reign (1804) and was initially known as Cung Thanh.
The Purple Forbidden City has a total perimeter of 1,228 meters (324 meters long and 290 meters wide), enclosed by brick walls without a moat system. It comprises around 50 constructions of various sizes, serving different purposes.
The area of The Purple Forbidden City is on the same North-South axis as the Imperial City and the Citadel. It features a wall surrounding palace areas such as Dai Cung Gate (the entrance gate to The Purple Forbidden City), Dien Can Chanh (the king’s working place – where routine court sessions took place, and Dien Thai Hoa outside was used for Grand Court ceremonies and major court events), Dien Can Thanh (the king’s residence), Dien Khon Thai (the residence of Empress consort), Dien/Lau Kien Trung (where King Khai Dinh resided and also served as the residence for King Bao Dai and Queen Nam Phuong, previously known as Minh Vien Lau).
In addition to the main structures arranged in a straight line behind the Dai Cung Gate, The Purple Forbidden City also features palaces and pavilions on both sides, known as the left and right wings, serving the king and the royal family’s dining, health, and entertainment needs. These include Thuong Thien Duong (the dining area), Thai Y Vien (Institute of Royal Medicine), Duyet Thi Duong (the royal theater), Co Ha Garden, Thieu Phuong Garden, Ngu Vien Garden, Hau Ho Garden, Truong Ninh Cung, Tu Khue To Lau, Dien Quang Minh (the residence of the prince), Luc Vien (Dien Trinh Minh (Residence of Royal concubine), Thuan Huy Vien,…
The Purple Forbidden City has a total of seven gates, mostly constructed entirely of wood, with tiled roofs. Most of the structures within Tu Cam Thanh are elevated above the ground (~1 meter) and have brick and stone platforms. The wooden frames, made from precious timber, feature intricate and elaborate carvings.
Regarding decorations, as it was the royal court, the motifs predominantly revolve around the Four Divine Creatures – Dragon, Qilin, Turtle, and Phoenix.
– The Dragon symbolizes the King. Dragon motifs are prominently displayed on roofs or in areas requiring decoration to highlight spaces reserved for the king.
– The Qilin, part of the Four Divine Creatures, represents benevolence, compassion, and the avoidance of stepping on young grass. It symbolizes an era of peace in accordance with Confucianism, where the Qilin represents a strong, peaceful dynasty with a virtuous and heroic king. Additionally, the unicorn represents loyalty and faithfulness. It signifies auspiciousness and is a symbol of eternal longevity, grandeur, and immense happiness.
– The Turtle (Tortoise) symbolizes longevity due to its long lifespan, signifying endurance and stability. According to Eastern beliefs, from the natural characteristics of its dual existence in both water and land, the turtle represents the harmony of yin and yang.
– The Phoenix symbolizes good fortune as it only appears during times of peace and disappears during chaotic periods. Phoenix motifs are mainly found in areas associated with the queen.
Calabash Bottle Gourd represents a mystical cosmic gourd, fullness, survival, and the vital energy of the heavens and the earth. Its form integrates the trinity of Taoism, including Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism.
The surface materials of Nguyen-era decorative motifs, especially during King Khai Dinh’s reign, were mostly enamel porcelain. Enamel porcelain transformed the originally heavy and rigid architectural blocks into a harmonious, soft, and sensual appearance.
In more important locations requiring exquisite craftsmanship, the decorations were made using painted enamels (metal with enamel coating) (The French call it “émail peint sur cuivre”, the Japanese call it “Shipouyaki”). The painted enamel involves applying a layer of enamel on metal, using brushes to paint details on the enamel layer, and then firing it.
The Citadel of Hue is not only a unique cultural heritage of Vietnam but also carries significant cultural values of Southeast Asia. It possesses special historical and architectural values and serves as a window to better understand the history, culture, and life of The Nguyen dynasty.