The Imperial City of Hue, Vietnam

The Imperial City of Hue, Vietnam

with 18 Comments

 

When I was a little girl, I used to watch Chinese TV shows telling stories about the Tang or the Ming dynasty. About warrior families, emperors, princesses, and palace intrigues. What really impressed me were not the storylines (it always ends the same way…), but the Ancient Chinese architecture.

 

I loved the gabled roofs, the wooden red sliding doors, and the circular portals separating beautiful courtyards. There were also the guarding lion and dragon sculptures at the entrances. Sometimes I imagined living there in a previous life, playing hide and seek in the gardens.

 

 

I always thought that we would have to travel to China to see all that architecture. But when we arrived in Hanoi, parts of my wish came true as we wandered around the Temple of Literature and the Ngoc Son Temple. And by the time we arrived in Hue, I thought I was in heaven!

 

Located on the bank of Song Huong (Perfume River), Hue is 700 km south of Hanoi, and 1100 km north of Saigon. It is in fact right in the center of Vietnam. During the last royal Vietnamese dynasty, Hue was the Imperial capital of the Nguyen Dynasty. And until 1945, this city was both the national capital, and the cultural and religious center of Vietnam.

 

 

Gigantic complexes of imperial tombs and pagodas are scattered all along the Perfume River. The highlight of Hue is however the Imperial City, surrounded by a Citadel which consists of a 2 km x 2 km wall and a huge moat. The inside of the Imperial City is divided into several zones: the Worshipping Zone, the Great Ceremony Zone, the workshop zone, the residence of the emperor’s mother and grandmother, and many more.

 

At the heart of the Imperial City lies the famous Forbidden Purple City, surrounded by brick walls. Like the (other) Forbidden City in China, only the Imperial family, concubines, eunuchs, and the emperors’ associates were allowed to access the Purple City.

 

The Imperial City of Hue is perhaps the best place in Vietnam to see how the originally Chinese imperial architecture got adapted by Vietnamese civilization. After all, this royal city is an emulation of the Chinese Forbidden City: it was built after the one in Beijing, according to Emperor Gia Long’s wish.

 

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During the Vietnam War (or shall we rather call it the American War?), Hue suffered a lot of damage due to its location near the border dividing Vietnam into North and South. Today, declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, many historical monuments are still being restored.

 

I’m not an expert of Chinese or Vietnamese architecture. So I must admit that I have no idea if the buildings have been accurately restored or not. But as we wandered around the ruins and the restored buildings, time seemed to slow down. We felt propelled back into the 19th century.

 

Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I caught a glimpse of a eunuch behind a pavilion…
Or was I just dreaming?

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The Imperial City of Hue, Vietnam © TravelwithMK.com

Follow Mei:

Traveler - Storyteller

Mei is a 30-something Archaeologist, born and raised in Luxembourg. Besides traveling, she loves eating sushi and stinky cheese (although not at the same time), as well as listening to Kerstin's funny stories while driving on long road trips. She's afraid of heights, but adores panoramic views. Her favorite places are those she chose to live in: Paris, Greece, San Francisco.

18 Responses

  1. tayaramuse
    | Reply

    I mean look at the architecture! Hue looks like such an amazing place to take in such a rich history. I really enjoyed your photos, thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Michael Hodgson
    | Reply

    What a wonderful account. I have been to Vietnam only once and chomping at the bit to go back. Your post has just added Hue to my list of places I want to experience. Have you wandered the Forbiden City in Beijing and if so, how similar is the one in Hue? And yes, perspective is everything … in the U.S. we call it the Vietnam War. In Vietnam, especially northern, the monuments and memorials are all to the American War.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      No we haven’t been to the Forbidden City in Beijing yet, but we’ll be visiting this summer! Regarding the Vietnam/American War: we were first very surprised that they call it the American War too, but truth be told it doesn’t really matter how we call it, in the end it was a war, right?! And let’s hope nothing like this will happen again.

  3. Kevin | Caffeinated Excursions
    | Reply

    I am going to be in Vietnam (HCM) starting in March and I’m so glad you posted this!! A little old lady I met in Oaxaca told me I had to check out Hue, a city I had never even heard of before that. This post has sealed the deal, I’m definitely making my way up here sooner than later! You’re absolutely right about how incredible the architecture is here.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Enjoy your time in Vietnam! When visiting Hue, make sure to spend a day at the beach in Danang and also visit Hoi An of course! 😉

  4. Astrid Vinje
    | Reply

    Hue looks like a beautiful city to visit. I love seeing old architecture. The buildings there look so colorful! It’s so interesting to see the strong influence of the Chinese on Vietnam.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Yes it was very surprising to see such a strong Chinese influence in Vietnamese architecture!

  5. Candy
    | Reply

    Such beautiful architecture and the colors are so regal! It’s sad that the war has damaged some of it, but I’m happy to hear that it is now a part of UNESCO.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Oh well, historical buildings also have to carry scars of the war, right?! 😉

  6. Danik
    | Reply

    I am loving the colours and the architecture. Would really love to check out this place as I am really into Chinese architecture (I spent a lot of time in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shenzen recently and thinking I didnt have enough time to look around as I was gobsmacked by the artworks etc).

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      We’re interested to know what you think of the Imperial City of Hue compared to the architecture you’ve seen in China. So please let us know once you’ve visited Hue! 😉

  7. Carolina Colborn
    | Reply

    Wonderful account of your love of and your sight of Chinese architecture as adapted in Vietnam. Have you seen the Beijing counterpart?

  8. Marvi
    | Reply

    What impressive architecture! I probably would imagine living here too if I am to stroll around and see the place. 🙂 Great to know that other historical monuments are still being restored. Imagine the beauty of it once everything is completed!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Yes if they are well restored! The problem in Asia is that they often “over”-restore the buildings (or artworks), thus erasing layers of history…

  9. s1simps
    | Reply

    That is incredible architecture. I would love to see this in person. Thanks for sharing!

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