Once Upon a Dynasty

The ancient capital holds the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of Vietnam

By Quang Binh Tourism Department

Thua Thien Hue Province Department of Tourism

Flag Tower in front of Meridian GateQuang Binh Tourism Department

The Imperial City

Located in the heart of Hue, on the northern bank of the Perfume River (Huong River) flowing through from West to East are Hue Citadel, Hue Imperial City, and the Purple Forbidden City (Tu Cam Thanh) – the three interlocking structures arranged on a vertical axis throughout from the South to the North. Hue Imperial Palace is a complex of great architectural and scenic monuments, recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage. This is a must-see destination for travelers visiting Hue. 

Meridian GateQuang Binh Tourism Department

The Nguyen Dynasty was the last dynasty in Vietnam history of monarchy, which lasted for 143 years (1802-1945) with 13 kings. The Nguyen Dynasty was established when King Gia Long (Nguyen Anh) was crowned in 1802, and ended with the abdication of King Bao Dai in 1945. .

Dragon decoration on the Belvedere of the Five-PhoenixesQuang Binh Tourism Department

The upper part of Meridian Gate is the "Belvedere of the Five-Phoenixes". This belvedere stands 1.15 meter high on another foundation, besides the lower level, and also formed in U-shape.

Dragon on the Belvedere of the Five-Phoenixes' roof detailQuang Binh Tourism Department

The Imperial City is the most important building of the Nguyen Dynasty, started in 1804 under King Gia Long, the founder of the dynasty. The project took 29 years to build and complete. In 1833, under the reign of King Minh Mang, the whole palace system with about 147 works of the Imperial City was completed. It has a merely square ground, surrounded by a zigzag wall system, with about 2500 meters each, nearly 10 kilometers of perimeter, 6.6-meter-high, 21-meter-thick, surrounded by moats and fortresses

Meridian Gate at nightQuang Binh Tourism Department

The Meridian Gate has a foundation system constructed on the U-shaped area, which has a base of 57.77 meter long and sides of 27.06 meter long. The ground level, built of stone bricks combined with brass bearing beams, is 5 meter high and 1.560 square-meter wide (including the inner space of the U-shape). It has five entrances, of which the center one was always reserved for the monarch's use only. The two, slightly smaller, side entrances were reserved for mandarins, soldiers and horses. The two small arched entrances on the side were for the rest and commoners.

One of 13 gates to the CitadelQuang Binh Tourism Department

The Imperial City has 13 gates: The Nhan Mon (Ngan Gate), Quang Duc (Sap Gate), Chanh Nam Mon (Nha Do Gate), Dong Nam Mon (Thuong Tu Gate), Tay Nam Mon (Huu Gate), Chanh Tay Mon, Chanh Dong Mon (Dong Ba Gate), Tay Bac Mon (An Hoa Gate), Dong Bac Mon (Ke Trai Gate), Chanh Bac Mon (Hau Gate), Tran Binh Mon, Tay Thanh Thuy Quan and Dong Thanh Thuy Quan.

The Nhan Mon Gate (Ngan Gate), one of 13 gates into the CitadelQuang Binh Tourism Department

The Nhan Mon Gate, also called Ngan Gate, is located in the south, on the left of Flag Tower. It has a one-way traffic from 23/8 street to Le Duan street. Its arch was built in 1809 under emperor Gia Long, the gazebo above was built in 1829 under emperor Minh Mang. At first it was called The Nguyen, but after the gazebo was finished, it became the The Nhan.

The Imperial City from high aboveQuang Binh Tourism Department

Hoang Thanh (Golden Palace)

Hoang Thanh is the second round of wall inside the Imperial City, which functions to protect the most important palaces, including Thai Hoa Hall or The Hall of Supreme Harmony (the place where the king holds a court), the Forbidden City (where the king and royal family live), and shrines to worship the Nguyen ancestors. Hoang Thanh has 4 main doors: the main gate (south) is Meridian Gate, the East is Hien Nhon, the West is Chuong Duc, and the North is Hoa Binh gate. The system of Hoang Thanh's works is planned on a symmetrical axis with the middle area being the most important works. The layout on both sides are arranged rigidly in each area, following the principles: "left male, right female", "left literature, right martial arts", prioritizing from inside out. 

The bridges and lakes were constructed around the outside of the city are all named Kim Thuy.

The roof system is covered with a special kind of glazed tile, often called the Thanh Luu Ly tile (green tile) or Hoang Luu Ly tile (yellow tile). Hoang Luu Ly tile is used on constructions that are specialized for the emperors, while the Thanh Luu Ly tile is used on other constructions for the royalties and mandarins.

The exteriors of palaces in Hoang Thanh were designed and built in the style of "trung luong trung thiem" (double houses with two roofs on one foundation). The palaces are all located on a high stone base with seams cladded with Thanh Hoa stones, and Bat Trang tiled floors having green or yellow enamel.

The Hall of Supreme HarmonyQuang Binh Tourism Department

Thai Hoa Hall (Palace of Supreme Harmony)

The throne, the symbol of power of feudal dynasties, was placed in Thai Hoa Palace. The palace was where the king held a court twice a month on the 1st and 15th day of the lunar calendar. This was also the place where important court ceremonies were held for both domestic and foreign purposes. On court-holdings, the king sat solemnly on the throne. The bureaucrats are in full presence, standing in line according to rank at Esplanade of Great Salutation, facing the throne in Thai Hoa Palace. Only the four pillars (four most important mandarins) and the royal relatives were allowed to enter the palace. Started in February 1805 and completed in October 1805, Thai Hoa Palace is one of the typical palace buildings that show the unique style of Hue Imperial Architecture. 

The front of Esplanade of Great Salutation and the Hall of Supreme HarmonyQuang Binh Tourism Department

Thai Hoa Palace is ​​1,360 square-meter-wide. Its platform is 1 meter higher than the first stage of Esplanade of Great Salutation and 2.35 meters higher than the ground. Like most royal palaces of the Nguyen Dynasty, Thai Hoa Palace was built in a "trung thiem diep oc" style (traditional double-roofed architecture on one floor).

Thai Hoa Palace's roofQuang Binh Tourism Department

Thai Hoa Palace was roofed with Hoang Luu Ly tiles, and decorated in "dragons vying the moon" theme.

Front view of Thai Hoa Palace - the Hall of Supreme HarmonyQuang Binh Tourism Department

The roof is divided into three overlapping layers in the order from high to low, covered with yellow tiles, and 9 dragons in different positions.

Esplanade of Great Salutation and the Hall of Supreme HarmonyQuang Binh Tourism Department

Esplanade of Great Salutation is a wide yard in front of the Hall of Supreme Harmony. It is where the mandarins stand when Nguyen Emperors held a court.

Esplanade of Great Salutation's entranceQuang Binh Tourism Department

Except for the Quilin in the front, Esplanade of Great Salutation does not have too much architectural value. However, in terms of historical roles, the yard has witnessed the prosperity and decline of 13 Nguyen Dynasty emperors. Today, it is an outdoor stage for Hue royal court music performance, as well as the place where cultural activities of Hue Citadel are taking place.

The mandarins' stone pillar at the Esplanade of Great SalutationQuang Binh Tourism Department

The yard in front of the hall is the Esplanade of Great Salutation, which is cladded with Thanh Hoa stones and divided into two levels. The upper part was mandarins ranked 3rd and above, while the lower was for the rest. The two sides of the yard have two rows of stone pillars, specifying the position for the mandarins in the order called the Pham Son.

The front of the Hall of Supreme HarmonyQuang Binh Tourism Department

The palace's surface area is 1,360 square-meters. Its platform is 1 meter higher than the first stage of the yard and 2.35 meters above the ground. The house in the back is the main hall with five double-storey rooms, the front house is called the front hall with seven two-storey compartments. The two houses before and after are connected by a crab-shell-styled roof.

Dragon-cloud decoration on Thai Hoa Hall's pillarQuang Binh Tourism Department

The palace system is supported by 80 red-lacquered and gilded ironwood columns which were decorated with “dragon in the clouds” theme - a symbol of the encounter between the emperor and the bureaucrats.

The "one poem and one picture" decoration in the palaceQuang Binh Tourism Department

Between two roof layers are the wood valances surrounding all the building. The valances were divided into cells for drawings and poetry.

The "one poem and one picture" decoration in Thai Hoa palace 2Quang Binh Tourism Department

The "one poem and one picture" decoration comes with a lot of poems and carved cells in the topics of the eight treasures, and four season. This became a way of normative rules of the Imperial City under Nguyen Dynasty.

The "Hall of Supreme Harmony" written in Chinese charactersQuang Binh Tourism Department

The roof truss system is relatively simple, just follow basic triangle truss structure, but the front truss system is the more sophicated type of "chong ruong - gia thu", with 2 beams and 5 pillars.

The Pavilion of SplendourQuang Binh Tourism Department

Hien Lam Pavilion (Pavilion of Splendor)

Hien Lam Pavilion located in the area of ​​shrines, where the Nguyen emperors are worshiped in Hue Imperial City, Hien Lam Pavilion was built during Emperor Minh Mang's reign, at the same time as The Mieu Temple. The construction was started in 1821 and inaugurated a year later. Hien Lam Pavilion has a surface area of ​​300 square-meters and a height of 17 meters, being the highest architectural building in the Imperial City. 

Hien Lam Pavilion's gateQuang Binh Tourism Department

Hien Lam Pavilion is constructed with high-rise wood and tiles with Bat Trang bricks. Outer walls were built with baked bricks, embossed terracotta pieces to decorate.

The Pavilion of Splendour 2Quang Binh Tourism Department

This building was built very firmly thanks to the system of 24 large wooden columns. With the exception of walls and floors, this construction was made entirely of wood, with all 12 roofs and 4 large wooden pillars as the main pillars of the building.

The interior of Hien Lam PavilionQuang Binh Tourism Department

The pavilion architecture is divided into 3 distinct parts, consisting of 3 floors, with sculptures of sophisticated level.

Wooden pillars and wooden bars in Hien Lam PavilionQuang Binh Tourism Department

The columns and trusses of the first floor are all sculptures with dragon, flowers, and leaves with very high architectural value. The support system on this floor all embossed the dragon motifs stylized into the vines.

Dien Tho Main HallQuang Binh Tourism Department

Dien Tho Palace

Dien Tho Palace was the residence of 8 mothers and 4 grandmothers of the emperors, during the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945). Located in west of the Forbidden City, to the south of Truong Sanh Palace (the Palace of Longevity) and the north of Phung Tien Palace, Dien Tho Palace today is an area of ​​about 17,500 square-meters, one of the large-scale complexes in Hue Imperial City. 

The interior of Dien Tho Main HallQuang Binh Tourism Department

The palace has a length of 126.4- and 138.5-meter-wide. Constructions inside the Palace include Dien Tho Main Hall, Tho Ninh Hall, Tinh Minh Mansion, Khuong Ninh Pavilion, and Truong Du Pavilion.

Tho Ninh HallQuang Binh Tourism Department

In early 1803, Emperor Gia Long started to build a palace with the original name of Truong Tho Palace as a living place for his mother, Empress Dowager Thai Tinh Khang. The palace system was repaired, built and renovated many times through the Nguyen emperors afterwards, such as Minh Mang, Tu Duc and Thanh Thai ... By the time of Emperor Khai Dinh (1916-1925), the palace was renamed Dien Tho Palace, and it remains until today.

Tinh Minh Pavilion of Dien Tho Palace (Queen Mother’s Residence)Quang Binh Tourism Department

Tinh Minh Mansion was built in 1927, during King Bao Dai's reign. It was constructed on the base of Thong Minh theatre - one of many tuong theatres built inside Dai Noi.

Truong Du Pavilion of Dien Tho PalaceQuang Binh Tourism Department

Truong Du Pavilion built in 1849 is a wooden building on a rectangular lake, spreading ​​530 square-meters. This is a water tower, which is for refreshment of the Empress Dowagers.

Khuong Ninh MansionQuang Binh Tourism Department

Nguyen Thi Hoan, Empress Dowager Y Tinh Khang, the mother of Emperor Gia Long, was the first owner and Empress Dowager Tu Cung Doan Huy (mother Emperor Bao Dai) was the last owner of Dien Tho Palace.

The Mieu TempleQuang Binh Tourism Department

The architectural complex of Hue Imperial City represents the power of the central Nguyen regime still looms over the volatility of time.

Credits: Story

Photo: Tran Tuan Viet

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