July 8, 2007
The former imperial city of Hue is the most important historical and cultural monument in Vietnam . It is also a place of great beauty, despite having been badly damaged during the 1968 Tet Offensive.
The beautiful Song Huong or Perfume River flows through the centre of the city, whilst the surrounding countryside is studded with elaborate tombs built during the time of the Nguyen Emperors. The river connects 6 tombs that are around Hue.
Hue was a fairly interesting City. When we first arrived we took a cyclo-cab (that is a pedal powered bicycle taxi) around the central Citadel at night. There are only four entrances into the citadel and we had to cross the Perfume and across another moat. Here is a blurb that best describes what was in the centre:
A second moat and defensive wall within the Citadel guard the Hoang Thanh or Yellow Imperial City, modeled by Gia Long on the Forbidden City in Beijing . This inner city, generally referred to as Dai Noi or “Great Enclosure”, has four gates the chief of which, in direct alignment with the Flag Tower to the south-east, is called Cua Ngo Mon or ‘Meridian Gate’. This majestic entrance, constructed by Emperor Minh Mang in 1833, is considered amongst the finest surviving examples of Nguyen architecture.
There are five entrances-the central way, reserved for the emperor alone, is flanked by lesser openings for mandarins and court officials. These in turn are flanked by two much larger entrances for the royal elephants. Above the massive stone slabs of the main gateway rests Five Phoenix Watchtower where the emperor sat enthroned on state occasions.
Above this pavilion is a small room reached by a concealed staircase where ladies of the royal court could see through finely-carved grilles without being observed.
The next day Sam and I were once again on the back of bikes visiting the main touristy spots. First stop was the Tomb of Khåi Ðinh.
Khai Dinh was amazing. The intricate sculpture work had our cameras working hard.
Unlike many of the other tombs, this one is built into the side of a hill, and is, essentially, all of one piece. It’s more European that the other tombs, having been built towards the end of the Nguyen period when the French were beginning to dominate the country.
Afterwards we visited a vendor selling incense sticks. Our guides explained the process of how the sticks were made. A few drinks and then we were off to the main tomb of Hue:the Tomb of Tú Ðúc.
The tomb is an enormous walled enclosure, practically a palace in its own right. The walls told us that the emperor spent a lot of time here during the tomb’s three years of construction. It seems likely that the tomb site served as a sort of summer palace.
By now it was midday and the sun was blazing, we wondered around under the trees and tried to find electric fans in some of the surrounding temples to cool off.