Wandering Imperial City Hue – The Forbidden Purple City

Wandering Imperial City Hue – The Forbidden Purple City

Wandering Imperial City Hue - The Forbidden Purple City

Imperial City Hue used to be a capital of Vietnam in the feudal age. In this place, the emperor Nguyen Anh had taken the throne in 1802 and founded the Nguyen Dynasty. Which the last feudal dynasty in Vietnam. In 1945, Hue ended its mission as a capital of Vietnam when the last emperor of the Nguyen dynasty, Bao Dai abdicated. Since then, the capital of Vietnam was once again as Hanoi, Imperial City Hue became the old capital. Hue is a city located on the East Sea coast, between the two big cities as Hanoi and Saigon. The two neighboring provinces of Hue are Quang Tri and Da Nang.

Overview Imperial City Hue

For those who used to travel in Vietnam, it’s easy realized there’s the difference in climate and culture of the three regions of this country. The south has tropical climates while the north has temperate climates. So the climates in Hue often hot and humid, which is the combination of climates of the North and the Southern. The Imperial City Hue is one of the places owns many cultural heritages. Until now, there’s no any place own a large number of historical monuments that still remains its intact as the Hue old capital.

On the north bank of Huong River, there is a historic monument built of defensive style which forms an 11-kilometer arc. Local people called it an Imperial Citadel. This magnificent architecture includes more than 100 works reflect the life of the Nguyen emperors. On the hills on the southern bank of the Huong River are the tombs of the Nguyen kings. The most famous of these are the four tombs. Which named in the personality of each king or the architecture style of each tomb. It’s the majesty of Gia Long and Minh Mang tombs, the romantic of Tu Duc tomb, the sumptuous from Khai Dinh tomb.

Imperial City Hue is also a center of Buddhism. In Hue city and surrounding areas, there are dozens of pagodas that were built over 300 years ago and hundreds of temples were built at the beginning of the century. In addition, Hue is known as the home of royal music, Hue food, and the traditional crafts.

It’s the only city of Vietnam where still retains the ruins of a medieval city and the architectural integrity of monarchy. Hue city has become an invaluable museum. So, Vietnam’s government has ranked the imperial city Hue as a precious asset. December 1993 Hue has been classified as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage.

What time to traveling imperial City Hue

If Vietnam climate includes two seasons: dry and rainy seasons, then Hue has only two seasons: rainy and low-rainy. Rainy seasons lasts from September to the end of December, low-rainy seasons from the end of December to April’s end. The rest months, the weather in Hue is quite of sunny because of this place under in the heat radiation and high heat area. Tourists often arrived at the Imperial City Hue at various times. Domestic visitors come to Hue from early May until late September, foreign tourists come to Hue from October until late April.

Attractions of Imperial City Hue

When said about Hue, people often think up the gentle girls in the purple ao dai. The purple symbolizes this city, where full of romance, deep, rustic and memorable. You will be able to admire the ancient beauties of historical monuments such as Imperial Citadel, Minh Mang Tomb, Gia Long Tomb, Thien Mu Pagoda, Temple of Literature and Hue National High School…

1. Imperial Citadel

The Citadel is the second layer located among Imperial City Hue. It’s accommodation of the king and royal families, where worships Nguyen Dynasty’s ancestors. Locals often call it as the Forbidden City or Dai Noi.

Where to go in Imperial city Hue, the forbidden purple city

The Imperial Citadel was built in 1804 by Gia Long Emperor. Until 1833 under Minh Mạng Emperor, the whole palace system with more than 100 works was constructed fully.

The Imperial Citadel is in square, area of 600 meters square, built of brick, 4m high, 1m thick, surrounded by the moats, there’s four entrance gateway: The main gate (south) is Ngọ Môn Gate, the east as Hiển Nhơn gate, the west has Chuong Duc gate, the north has Hoa Binh gate. The bridges and lakes were dug around outside of Imperial Citadel are all named Kim Thuy.

Imperial Citadel and the entire palace system were arranged on a symmetrical axis, in which the central axis is only for the emperors. The buildings on the two sides were arranged to depend on each region. All adhering to the principle (from the inside out): “men on the left side, women on the right side” “the left side for civil mandarins, the right side for military mandarins”. Even everything in the shrines all also arranged in the order.

Where to go in Imperial city Hue, the forbidden purple city

Passing through Imperial Citadel, you will step in Forbidden City behind the Thai Hoa Palace. This place reserved for the Emperor and his family. Built in early 1803 under Emperor Gia Long reign, it was initially named Cung Thanh. In 1821, it was renamed into the Tu Cam Thanh as today.

The whole site consists of 50 architectural constructions of different sizes and 7 entrance gates. Dai Cung Mon (the Great Palace Gate) is on the front side, only reserved for the King. Can Chanh Palace was the place for Emperors working daily. Can Thanh (Emperor’s Private Palace), Khon Thai palace (Queen’s Private Apartment) were reserved for the Queens. There are still many other sections, for instance, Duyet Thi Duong house (Royal Theatre), Thuong Thien (the kitchen for the King’s food), Thai Binh Lau (King’s reading room), all of which are of great architectural value, luring a lot of tourists who are interested in the feudal architectures.

So far, under changes of time, hundreds of buildings in the Forbidden City only a few of works left, less than half the initial number.

2. Royal tombs system

1. Tu Duc Tomb

Tu Duc Tomb located in a narrow valley at Thuong Ba Village, Thuy Xuan Ward, Hue City. It’s a complex of architectural where buried King Tu Duc. At first, the tomb was named Van Nien Co, after one rebellion, Tu Duc had renamed to Khiem Cung. After King Tu Duc’s dead, the tomb was renamed to Khiem Lang.

Where to go in Imperial city Hue, the forbidden purple city

Tu Duc Tombs has the scene and the architectural style so beautiful. It’s one of the most beautiful tombs of the Nguyen Dynasty.The tomb about 12 hectares with nearly 50 constructions, including lakes, mounts, palaces, pavilions, temples, altars, etc. This tomb was surrounded by a thick wall. Different from other tombs, the tomb of Tu Duc has romantic scenery and also as a relaxing place for the king when he was alive. There’s a large lake where the emperor took the boat to relax and sat in the pavilion to compose poetry.

Tu Duc Tomb showed a traditional elegance feature of Vietnamese architecture. It’s designed by Tu Duc himself, he said that he preferred living in this peaceful place than at the palace. Under Tu Duc’s reign, Vietnam armies were defeated by the French. Furthermore, the king had no children, and so this makes he more and more grief. However, his reign was the longest of the Nguyen kings (1448 – 1883). The king had stayed and enjoyed the peaceful scenery in this place during for 16 years before death.

2. Minh Mang tomb

Minh Mang Tomb is in Huong Tho Commune, Huong Tra District, on the west bank of Huong River and about 12km south of Hue City center. This is a place where 2 branches of rivers joined to one forms the picturesque Huong River.

Where to go in Imperial city Hue, the forbidden purple city

The tomb was started constructing in 1840 on King Minh Mang command. After the king died in 1841, King Thieu Tri continued the task, according to his father’s plan. The construction was fully completed 2 years later. Minh Mang Tomb includes 40 constructions such as palaces, temples, pavilions, etc. Many said that it’s a perfect combination of human hands and natural beauty.

The structures were distributed into three main parallel axes of which Than Dao path is the center.

  • Dai Hong Mon: It’s the main gate to enter the tomb. The gate includes three paths with 24 heaving roofs covered with beautiful decoration items. The gate was opened only once to bring the Emperor’s coffin into the tomb and it had been locked since then. People have to go on two side-gates Ta Hong Mon (Left Gate) and Huu Hong Mon (Right Gate).
  • The Honor Courtyard behind the Main Gate: It has two rows of statues of the mandarins, elephants, and horses. At the other side of the Hong Mon hill is Steele Pavilion where has “Thanh Duc Thanh Cong” board where inscribed the Minh Mang’s biography and the compliments which be written by Thieu Tri King.
  • The Salutation Court leads to Sung An Temple where people worship the Emperor and Ta Thien Nhan Queen.

Where to go in Imperial city Hue, the forbidden purple city

There are 3 stone bridges on the other side of the temple heading to the Minh Lau Pavilion on Tam Tai Mount. It was designed as a relaxing place for the king to think about life and write poems. It was considered a resting place of souls of the dead emperors. On both sides of Minh Lau, two obelisks stand on two hills, namely Binh and Thanh Mountain. In the back of Minh Lau are two flower gardens designed based on a character in Chinese culture “Longevity”.

3. Khai Dinh Tomb

The tomb began constructed on September 4, 1920, and lasted for 11 years. There’s a lot of famous craftsmen and artisans take part in the construction. Compared with the tombs of the predecessors, the tomb of Khai Dinh has a modest area, however, the construction quite elaborate and takes a long time. To build the tomb, Khai Dinh had bought iron, steel, cement, Ardoise tiles from France …, bought porcelains, colored glasses from China, Japan …

The architectural of the tomb of Khai Dinh is not belong to the architecture of the Nguyen Dynasty because of its style quite new, unique… The tomb is a rectangular block, includes 127 ladder steps. It’s the mix of many architectural styles such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Roman, Gothique … shown on the tomb:

  • The pillars-gate in pyramid shape from Indian architecture.
  • Two pillars with Stoupa form in Buddhism architectural style.
  • The fences decorated the crosses
  • The gravestones with octagonal columns and arch door in Roman style…This is the result of two factors: the mixing of East-West cultural and the personality of Khai Dinh.

Where to go in Imperial city Hue, the forbidden purple city

3. Hue Garden House

Imperial City Hue is not only famous for its natural beauty and romance. It’s also especially charming with the depth of the spiritual life of natives which show through architecture. Beside the quiet tombs and the ancient look feature of citadels, those peaceful garden houses here made up the “garden city” of Hue.

Where to go in Imperial city Hue, the forbidden purple city

These houses have a large roofs terracotta tiles helps release the heat of summer and keep the heat in winter, and the pillars made of ironwood or jackfruit wood. The width of the house was much wider than the length and divided into several rooms inside. Structurally, garden houses all looked quite similar. But each house was placed in its own direction depending on the feng shui.

Sightseeing Hue garden houses, you will recognize the spirit and lifestyles of the hosts. Hue garden houses express the harmony of the lives and nature, the spiritual life, and material. All complement each other, to create a balance in life.

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4. Thien Mu Pagoda

Thien Mu Pagoda, also known as Linh Mu Pagoda, is an ancient pagoda located on Ha Khe Hill, on the left bank of the Huong River, about 5 km west of the center of Hue City. Thien Mu Pagoda was officially established in 1601, under Nguyen Hoang reign – the first Nguyen Lord in Cochinchina.

Where to go in Imperial city Hue, the forbidden purple city

Legend has it that when Lord Nguyen Hoang came to Hue and Quang Nam, he personally went to look for the site to prepare for the plan to built the capital. When riding a horse along the Huong River to the upstream, he saw a small hill beside the river, its form like a dragon is turning its head to look back, this hill named as Ha Khe Hill.

Local people told him that at night there was an old lady dressed in red, appeared on the hill. The lady had told to people: “Then there will be a good king come here, build up the pagoda and establishing a mighty kingdom.”

Nguyen Hoang was very happy. It’s mean that the great desire of Lord Nguyen Hoang seems to be in harmony with the will of the local people. In 1601, Nguyen Hoang built up a pagoda on the hill, overlooking the Huong River, named “Thien Mu”. Mean a lady from heaven.

Where to go in Imperial city Hue, the forbidden purple city

5. Hue Imperial Museum of Fine Arts

Hue Imperial Museum of Fine Arts located inside Long An palace. This is the first museum established in Hue with the first name ‘Musee Khai Dinh’. Precinct of the museum has an area of 6.330m2; the main zone is the middle of an area of 1.185 m2 and storage, garden… Long An is situated in Bao Dinh palace where established in 1845. In the past, it was used an accommodation and relaxes of Thieu Tri King (1841-1847).

Where to go in Imperial city Hue, the forbidden purple city

It’s reasonable when turning Long An to become the museum. This is wonderful architectural structure, built based on Hue royal architectures style. The palace includes 128 pillars. Most artifacts in the museum had collected and preserved since 1913. Now, artifacts display up to 10.000 unit. It is made from all kinds of materials such as gold, silver, stone, wood, leather, paper…

Over the time, some artifacts are not intact. However, coming here now, tourists still have chances to contemplate hundreds of artifacts such as royal clothes, poems, silver products… Apart from artifacts were displayed, the museum still stored thousands of artifacts which brought from the neighbor countries. The museum has a storage that keeps more 80 artifacts which collected in Europe in 1927. In general, Long An palace is the ancient palace has the special attractiveness with tourists when visiting Imperial City Hue.

I used to recommend you not visit the museum when traveling to any place. However, it’s only for those who not interested in researching the historical – cultural values. Should not take time to arrive places where no joy. I personally love learning about the history and culture of each destination, so the museums always my favorite places.

6. Huong River

Huong River as the most popular attractions in this romantic city. The Huong River runs across Imperial City Hue. In the autumn, on the upstream, the flowers which in the orchards falling into the water, make the river perfumed with the scent of the flowers. Therefore, natives call it the Huong River, means the perfume.

Where to go in Imperial city Hue, the forbidden purple city

From upstream, the river going in the south-north direction past the temples of Hon Chen and Ngoc Tran, then flowing north-west. Then, the Huong River flows to the north-east crossing the tombs of the Nguyen emperors, and the Ancient Citadel of Hue City. The river continues, passing Hen dune and the villages before merge into the Tam Giang lagoon. From Bang Lang to the Thuan An estuary far about 30 km, the river runs slowly (as the river level is not much above sea level).

Huong River is beautiful as early as the upstream. It flows around mountains, forests, trees, get full of the aromas of tropical forest. The shimmer of water is green like jade in the sun, the boats bobbing on the waves, the romantic folk songs from the boatmen girls… All have created a poetic scenery of this land.

7. Ngu Binh Mount

Ngu Binh Mountain is 105 m in height. Nguyen Dynasty when built the city of Hue has chosen this mountain as the protective outpost of Citadel Imperial. This mountain was renamed Ngu Binh.

Together with Huong River, Ngu Binh Mountain is the second priceless gift of Nature. Both of it combined together to create the charming beauty of Imperial City Hue.

8. Hon Chen Temple

Hon Chen Temple is located on the southeast slope of Ngoc Tran Mount, overlooking Huong River and opposite to Vong Canh Hill. Hon Chen Temple had existed a long time before Emperor Minh Mang reign. The king had repaired and expanded the temple in 1832. The Temple has many valuable antiques and ten constructions: Minh Kinh Dai, Quan Cu, Trinh Cat Vien, Ngu Vi, Thanh Ba, Chua Thanh, etc. It is a place for worshiping the Goddess Y-A-Na of the Hindus.

Where to go in Imperial city Hue, the forbidden purple city

The Hon Chen Temple Festival takes place twice every year, in the March and the July in lunar months. It starts with a procession referred to as the God Welcoming ceremony. People will bring all the Gods which were worshipped from the village’s shrines to the communal house. There’re many of rituals including the procession in honor of Saint Mother Thien Y- A -Na. This procession organizes at night with many boats bound together into big rafts on the Huong River created a brilliant lights space.

9. Tinh Tam Lake

Tinh Tam Lake, one of the most famous sites in Imperial Capital Hue, sits just north of the City. Tinh Tam Lake in Rectangular shape and surrounded by brick walls. It’s a manmade lake, on the middle there’s a small islet — linked by many bridges – a leisure place of members of royalty. Built in the early nineteenth century, Tinh Tam lake was considered a major achievement in landscape architecture at the time.

Where to go in Imperial city Hue, the forbidden purple city

Due to its proximity to the Imperial Citadel, You can take sightseeing Tinh Tam Lake immediately before or after tour visit the palaces. If you like, can take a cyclo along the lake banks. During festivals in Hue, this lake is sometimes used as a place for musical and cultural performances as a floating stage.

10. Thuan An Beach

Where to go in Imperial city Hue, the forbidden purple city

Thuan An beach located 15 km east of Hue city, where Huong river flows into Tam Giang lagoon and then into the sea. Thuan An is a place where attracted a lot of locals in the summer. The most crowded time here usually lasts from April to September when the hottest weather. Visitors to Thuan An can visit the nearby Thai Duong shrine and heard the legend of Thai Duong goddess, or visit the Am Linh temple where worshiping the god whale, the sacred animal of the coastal fishers.

11. Hai Van Quan

In the past, Hai Van Quan was a strategic position about military and transport on the road to Hue capital. It’s also the southern shield of the Hue Capital. Hai Van Quan located at the peak of the Hai Van pass, overlooking to the sea from the Truong Son range. Peak’s Hai Van at 496m above sea level; it’s far away Hue city about 77 km to the south and 28 km north of Da Nang.

Where to go in Imperial city Hue, the forbidden purple city

12. Bach Ma Mount

Bach Ma Mountain far away about 60 km from Hue city to the south, at an altitude of 1,450m, it’s a popular resort in Vietnam. At the summit of the mountain, the climates divided into four seasons for a day with the fresh air, the beautiful waterfalls, the unspoiled forest. It’s a temperate climate zone like in Sapa, Tam Dao, Da Lat … Bach Ma Mountain is also home to a variety of animals and plants in tropicals.

Where to go in Imperial city Hue, the forbidden purple city

Bach Ma Mountain is famous for many spectacular streams and waterfalls. The Do Quyen Waterfall is 400m high, 20m wide. On the two sides of the waterfall, water-rail flowers bloom brilliantly created an impressive scene.

Standing on the top of Bach Ma Mountain, you can see the splendid panorama of Hai Van Pass, Tuy Van Mountain, Cau Hai- Tam Giang Lagoon and Hue City.

13. Tam Giang Lagoon

Tam Giang lagoon is a confluence of three O Lau rivers, Bo river, and Huong river before flowing into the sea. So, Tam Giang lagoon is “symbolic” about the ecological environment of Hue. Visitors when travel in Imperial City Hue all not skip this famous place. Tam Giang Lagoon is getting most beautiful at sunset. On the sparkled golden waters, there’re many shrimp farming fields of various sizes. How a spectacular scene!

Where to go in Imperial city Hue, the forbidden purple city

Tam Giang is a place where the richest source of flora and fauna in South East Asia. When arriving here, right from the dock, you will get surprised with a pretty crowded and bustle market. Especially when the sunset, the golden sunlight shined on the wooden boats full of fresh seafood including shrimp, fish, squid, etc. So, on the journey to explore Tam Giang Lagoon, there will be nothing more interesting than enjoying those local specialties which were harvested by the hard-working fishermen.

The Tam Giang Lagoon from the old days was known as low and poverty land. It was not easy to arrive this place. Today, due to the development of transport systems, people can easily come here, watch the dawn and the sunset in the peaceful space without cannot find anywhere else. On the horizon, the golden sunlight gleaming on the still water. Even in the bleak landscape of a rainy afternoon, Tam Giang Lagoon still shows up its rustic beauty when the last sunbeam shining through the vast tranquil space. It brings the indescribable emotions.

Eating In Imperial City Hue

Well known for the elegant style, Hue people very particular in eating. They not only focused on the selection of raw materials but also carefully in cooking and decoration. Each dish considered a work of art.

Where to go in Imperial city Hue, the forbidden purple city

There are over 1000 dishes cooked in Hue style, including the dishes only for the kings. The king’s menu included few dozen kinds of delicacies, prepared and careful, meticulous, picky. The dishes of locals includes hundreds of dishes which prepared by the skillful hands of Hue housewives. Hue foods charmed tourists by the tasty flavors, attractive color. It mainly focuses on quality than quantity. Hue culinary traditions demand that meals must be presented aesthetically, harmonizing food elements, decorations, and colors to create a gastronomic work of art. Most dishes are accompanied with sauces specific to the dish. Besides, if who has ever enjoyed Hue vegetarian foods (which made from the vegetation), will certainly never forget the excellent taste of Hue foods.
You can find out more about Hue foods through this article:
               What do you know about Hue food?

Local festivals

Imperial City Hue is a land is rich culture and traditions. Although its history not long as the North of Vietnam, it’s also lasting than 700 years. Since when Lord Nguyen set up the capital here until the Nguyen Dynasty (1945), it can be said that Hue is a place of convergence of cultural activists of caliber, a place where mixed the cultures.

Hue culture derived from the North, from the people who followed Nguyen Hoang lord, settled on the new land. Before Nguyen Lords, this place is the hometown of Cham people with Indian culture. In the Nguyen lords period, Western culture also had the opportunity to penetrate in the lives. So, today, the traditional festivals are maintained and developed to honored those cultures.

Where to go in Imperial city Hue, the forbidden purple city

Festivals are traditional cultural activities Thua Thien Hue people. In general, the Festival in Hue is not as plentiful as the North of Vietnam, but it is also quite diverse. There are two types of the festival: The Royal courts and folk festivals. The royal court festivals simulate the ritual activities of the Nguyen Dynasty, most of them focus only on “ceremony” than “Assembly”. Folk festivals include a variety of very rich, including a number of typical festivals as follows: Hue Nam Festival (Hon Chen temple) also known as the ceremony of goddess Thien YA Na according to beliefs of people Champa, Commemorates those who fathers formed the traditional handicrafts, commemorates the founder of the village… On the festivals, many cultural activities such as boat racing, tug of war, wrestling are also held and attracted a large audience.

Thank you for reading this article. It’s too long an article, but I have not talked all about Hue yet. My mom’s hometown in Hue so I very understood this place: people, culture, scenery. Besides Hoi An, Hue is the only place remain a lot of historical monuments. There are many attractions in Hue that not mentioned in this article yet, I hope to have the opportunity to tell you. Personally, although it’s considered as a highlight antique destination, the tourism services in the Imperial City Hue does not get professional as Hoi An ancient town. However, if you love to find out history and explore cultural values, the Imperial City Hue is an ideal destination for you!

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Hi, I am Ventori, own this blog. This blog is my travel stories I experienced throughout Vietnam. This also places to share useful tips and guides for you. Enjoy your visit!

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