Hue Citadel: Journey back in time to learn about the last dynasty of Vietnam

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In the poetic city of Hue, Vietnam, there is a massive ancient complex featuring hundreds of palaces and monuments that is listed as a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site. If you are planning a visit to Hue, do not miss out on the chance to explore the impressive architecture of Hue Citadel, and the long-lasting history it has witnessed, through the eyes of an insider.

Overview of the Hue Citadel

On the north bank of the Huong River (Perfume River), among the surrounding hills and mountains, Emperor Gia Long moved the country’s capital from Thang Long – Ha Noi. In 1805, The Citadel complex of Hue was constructed, comprising three circles of ramparts: Kinh Thanh (Capital Citadel), Hoang Thanh (Royal Citadel) and Tu Cam Thanh (Forbidden Citadel).

From then on, Hue was the administrative and military center for 140 years until President Ho Chi Minh set up the new communist government in Hanoi. Nowadays, Hue citadel still retains many architectural works, temples, and palaces with outstanding cultural and architectural values. So, if you could stop by for one day, exploring the Hue ancient capital with a local expert from Inspitrip is a wise time-saving choice.

History of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802 – 1945)

The Nguyen Dynasty (1802 - 1945) was formed after King Gia Long ascended the throne (former name was Nguyen Anh). After King Quang Trung (the predecessor of Gia Long) died in 1792, Nguyen Anh overthrew the Quang Trung Dynasty and ascended the throne in 1802.

With a favorable geographical position, from the very beginning, Hue suffered from frequent attacks by neighboring kingdoms - Champa and Khmer. Inevitably, the Nguyen Dynasty experienced many ups and downs of history, including four different country name changes: Nam Viet (1802-1804), Dai Viet and Dai Viet (1804-1839) and finally Dai South 1839. The Nguyen Dynasty can be divided into two important periods:

- First period (1802 – 1858) was an independent time. The Nguyen Emperors took full control of the country. This included Emperor Gia Long, Minh Mang, Thieu Tri, and Tu Duc.

- Second period (1858 – 1945) was the period of invasion and domination. After the French troops attacked Da Nang, they forced Emperor Tu Duc to sign agreements and accept the “protection” of the French. This period ended after the French lost the war in Indochina in 1954, leading to the last Emperor of Vietnam – Emperor Bao Dai’s abdication.

The end of the Nguyen Dynasty marked the beginning of an era of Western domination.

The structure of Hue Citadel

The Citadel of Hue was built on a huge surface of 520ha, headed south, consisting of three circles of ramparts. All buildings are harmonious with nature, lakes, flower gardens, stone bridges, etc. in a “scallop style”.

Kinh Thanh (Capital Citadel)

After King Gia Long ascended the throne in 1802, he ordered the construction of new fortresses and palaces for the royal family. It took them nearly 30 years, from 1805 to 1832, to build the new Hue Citadel to meet the needs of King Gia Long: square, nearly 10 km in circumference, 6.6 meters high and with 10 entrances. Not only that, the complex also has 24 fortresses atop the surrounding walls for defensive purposes. Surprisingly, this 520ha citadel has remained intact with nearly 140 large and small constructions over the past two centuries.

One of the sights of the Complex of Hue Monuments is the Hue flag relic. Located in front of the South Gate (Meridian Gate), it is a colossal structure consisting of three flat-top pyramids, one on top of one another. It was built during the reign of King Gia Long, in 1807, and later renovated by his son, King Minh Mang. The flagpole is 17.40 m high, including three steps. Originally, the flagpole was 29.52 m long and was made of wood. But the flag we see today is a 21 meter long concrete stick that was erected in 1948.

At this place on August 25, 1945, a meeting was held to commemorate the change of the King's seal. Emperor Bao Dai abdicated before the delegation of the Central Committee. That marked the end of feudalism that existed for thousands of years in Vietnam.

Royal Citadel (Hoang Thanh)

Now we are going to the second rampart of Hue Citadel, the most important part: the Royal Citadel (Hoang Thanh). The construction of this square-shaped Royal Citadel started in 1804 and finally finished in 1833, under the reign of Emperor Minh Mang. The function of this citadel was to protect the important palaces of the imperial court, the temples of the Nguyen ancestors and shield the Forbidden Citadel – a residential place dedicated to the king and the royal family.

Meridian Gate (Ngo Mon Gate)

To enter the Imperial Citadel, you must pass through the Gate of Meridian, commonly known as the "Ngo Mon". The Gate of Meridian was an observatory after the completion of the Imperial Palace in 1833. It stimulated the original design of the Gate of Meridian of the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. Hue's Meridian Gate has three parts: a central part and two protruding wings. The wings are traditionally used to mark the entrances of palaces, temples and tombs.

From the ground, the stone steps lead to the upper floor: "Lau Ngu Phung" (Lau Ngu Phung). The elaborate ruong house has a frame entirely of ironwood with 100 columns. The roof of the upper floor is divided into nine sets with lots of ornamental birds on the edge. This was the place for the Emperors to monitor the movements of the army.

Hien Nhon Gate

Located in the East of the Imperial Citadel, Hien Nhon Gate was built in 1805, under King Gia Long. By the reign of King Minh Mang, in 1833, the door was made of decorative terracotta pieces. Previously, male and female mandarins entered the Citadel through Hien Nhon gate. But at present, only officials of the Center for Conservation of the Ancient Capital of Hue can use this door, except on festival days with a large number of tourists.

Thai Hoa Palace

Going to the center of Hue citadel, you can see Thai Hoa Palace, where the coronation of the Nguyen Emperors occurred. This place was where the Emperor, his royal family, and mandarins attended important court ceremonies. Therefore, it was considered the most important building in the Imperial Citadel.

Thai Hoa Palace catches our eyes with its unique roofs – two roofs overlapping with each other.  In front of Thai Hoa Palace is the Great Court. This was where the mandarins attend the ceremonies and festivals held by the Emperor. Inside the Palace is even more marvelous with 80 golden iron pillars, dragon patterns, and hundreds of Chinese poems.

Tu Cam Thanh (Forbidden Citadel)

If you have come this far, you must see inside the Forbidden Citadel, which the locals call Tu Cam Thanh. Emperor Gia Long ordered the construction of this Royal’s residential area in 1804 and then renovated it several more times.

The Forbidden Citadel consists of various architectural constructions of different sizes and functions. For examples Dai Cung Mon (the Great Palace Gate) is in the front side, only reserved for the Kings; Can Chanh Palace was the place for daily working of Emperors; Can Thanh (Emperor’s Private Palace) and Khon Thai Residence were only for the Queens.

Another important but attractive, picturesque part of the Forbidden Citadel of Hue is a corridor or “hallway”. According to the researchers, this passage has 23 corridors with a total length of 903 meters. Hue Monuments Conservation Center has strictly complied with UNESCO's request to restore this heritage site for the past ten years. Today, the mausoleum is also a place to display hundreds of photos and poems of King Minh Mang

Duyet Thi Duong

Duyet Thi Duong is a theater for the Emperor, royal family, servants and sometimes for guests and emissaries. Tuong is often called the classical opera of Vietnam, combining dance, singing and poetry. Dao Duy Tu, musician who laid the foundation for Tuong art, served under the Nguyen Dynasty. Tuong plays were loved by many Nguyen Emperors. Duyet Thi Duong is considered the oldest theater of the Vietnamese theater industry.

Know before you go

Best time to visit

Hue climate is hot and humid all year round. But in case you can arrange your trip between February and April, you will most likely encounter a cooler and drier climate. Every April and June, Hue Festivals will take place along with many traditional cultural activities. If you come around August to December, be aware that it is the rainy season in Hue. Therefore, you may have to bring a raincoat or umbrella in case it rains.

How to get to Hue?

- From Da Nang and Hoi An
If you are traveling from Da Nang city or Hoi An ancient town, it is easy to take a day trip to Hue that includes many must-see destinations in this ancient Vietnamese capital.

Or you can even catch a cheap bus or ride a motorbike to Hue, which only takes 2-3 hours if you want to explore this charming city at your own pace.

Inspirtrip also offers a private transfer service from Da Nang to Hue to make your travel more comfortable and pleasant. Just sit back and relax in the comfort and privacy of your vehicle with your skilled driver. Our fleet of high quality, air-conditioned vehicles are always ready to pick you up at any time.

- From Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City
Hue city has its own airport named Phu Bai that you could easily reach by taking a domestic flight from Ho Chi Minh City or Ha Noi. Vietnam Airlines, Jetstar Pacific and Vietjet Air are the three airlines that operate multiple flights per day.

- Getting around Hue City
From your hotel in Hue, there are many options that you can choose to get to Hue Ancient Capital. You can catch a cyclo, bicycle, motorbike, taxi or even a dragon boat. From the south bank of the Perfume River, go through Trang Tien Bridge, Phu Xuan Bridge and then turn into Quang Duc Street.

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