Forbidden City – Vietnam-style

Hue is truly a splendid city to be staying in. The wide Perfume river has beautiful parks on both sides and there is a great social buzz to the place. I love it!

It’s a twenty minute walk to the citadel which, for all intents and purposes, is Vietnam’s equivalent of Beijing’s forbidden city.

The grounds of the Imperial City are surrounded by a wall 2 kilometers by 2 kilometers, and the walls are surrounded by a moat. The moat’s water comes from the Huong River (Perfume River) that flows through Huế (while it is not perfumed it is certainly not whiffy like Saigon’s river).  Inside the citadel is the Imperial City, surrounded by another wall with a perimeter of almost 2.5 kilometers. Inside that Imperial City is the imperial enclosure called the Purple Forbidden City in Vietnamese, similar to the Forbidden City in Beijing. It’s here where the Nguyễn imperial family resided and ruled – boxes within boxes.

The walls around the citadel reminded me somewhat of Lucca’s own walls and they date from the same period too!

But what’s inside is rather different, of course, magically different…

I visisted the Emperor’s audience hall, the purple city (only eunuchs allowed until modern times so as not to interfere with the emperor’s thousand concubines…), a wonderful temple complex and much else. Some of the buildings were being restored – the Emperor’s study with its florid mosaics will certainly be stunning when that restoration is finished.

The emperor’s court must have been quite something with its pomp and ceremonial. Old photographs in an exhibition there gave the flavour of the thing.

I am so angry – why didn’t the colonial powers leave Indo-China alone? After all they left the kingdom of Siam (Thailand) alone (except for that famous governess). A lot more would have been preserved today. And no bloody modern warfare!

For in the early morning hours of January 31, 1968, as part of the Tet Offensive a Division-sized force of North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong soldiers launched a coordinated attack on Huế seizing most of the city. During the initial phases of the Battle of Hue, due to Huế’s religious and cultural status, Allied forces were ordered not to bomb or shell the city, for fear of destroying the historic structures but as casualties mounted in the house-to-house fighting these restrictions were progressively lifted and the fighting caused substantial damage to the Imperial City. Out of 160 buildings only 10 major sites remain because of the battle, such as the Thái Hòa and Cần Thanh temples, Thế Miếu, and Hiển Lâm Các among those I visited.

Well done USA – you succeeded in demolishing Mantegna’s Padova Eremitani frescoes in WW2 and most of Pisa’s Camposanto too but in Vietnam’s imperial city you capped even that achievement…

The city was made a UNESCO site in 1993. The buildings that still remain are being restored and preserved. The latest, and so far the largest, restoration project was planned to conclude in 2015 but it will clearly take rather longer than that.

Anyway, enough remains to give an unforgettable atmosphere to this alternative forbidden city. My visit to it was certainly another highlight in this quick look at this burgeoning youthful country and my moments visiting imperial temples or musing on the bombed remains of the Emperor’s harems will remain with me for a long time to come.

Here is a clip of some of the classical Vietnamese music being played in the purple city’s principal courtyard:


3 thoughts on “Forbidden City – Vietnam-style

  1. Just a brief note to say we are all enjoying your posts from Vietnam.
    Amazing rich culture and history, and a well priced train service to boot!

  2. Well this is a result will be nice to revisit when the railway links will be vastly improved who are all those ladies you seem to be mobbed by them watch out! Well it will be nice to revisit when the Imperial Palace will have been more restored than now it seems so strange you are aeons away in another world how on earth does one manage out there with the language barrier I wonder do let us know it is all very exciting! I love the topiary turtles how symbolic pure bliss well and the decorations majolica is it obviously has weathered very well indeed and has nice bright chearful colours!

  3. Thank you for your notes on Hue, we are visiting there today, and have just returned from the Citadel, and various mausoleums and pagodas. It’s a fantastic place. We’re off to Hoi An tomorrow. Look forward to exchanging more experiences when we return to Bagni di Lucca mid-April.

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