Hue – The Forbidden Purple City and Imperial Tombs

We left Hoi An on the bus and arrived in Hue after dark. I think we just let one of the tauters lead us to a hotel. It was cold and raining and we didn’t really want to walk around much. This is how we saw the best place on our trip. A restaurant, pub and cafe in one.

Cafe On Thu WheelsCafe on Thu Wheels

Address: 3/34 Nguyen Tri Phuong Street, Hue, Vietnam

Highlights:

  • amazing atmosphere
  • place where you can let your “wachfulness” down and be crazy
  • charming owner
  • if you are feeling home sick and need to meet genuine, fun, and interesting people this is your place
  • other travellers, we joined them in drinking local beer and sharing travel adventures
  • delicious food
  • motorbike rental and tours
  • a notebook with messages and contacts to people all around the World
  • walls full of memories and individual expressions
  • toilet you are not likely to forget ;) I’m not going to spoil it for you

We stayed at the hotel just opposite. I can’t complain. It was good standard but it was terribly cold. Well I suppose it would be perfect if the temperature outside was tropical heat.

Hue served as Vietnam’s capital under the emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 to 1945 and the city’s regal past can still be seen inside the walls of the Citadel and the Imperial City. Thanks to UNESCO funding, much of the City is being faithfully restored to its former glory. The Imperial City, created in the 19th century and modeled on the Forbidden City in Beijing, has many palaces and temples inside. The seat of the Nguyen emperors was the Citadel, which occupies a large, walled area on the north side of the river. Inside the citadel was a forbidden city where only the emperors, concubines, and those close enough to them were granted access; the punishment for trespassing was death. Today, little of the forbidden city remains, though reconstruction efforts are in progress to maintain it as a historic tourist attraction.

We decided to split. P. wanted to rent a motorbike and just drive around and I wanted to see the Royal Tombs with a guide. It was to be the highlight of our trip for me. I love the flexibility and no pressure to be together all the time. I think we were both happy about the choice we made.

In short, from what P. told me, the ride around city was exciting and the traffic wasn’t as bad as in HCMC after driving around the center he decided to drive out of the city. There he almost had a terrible accident in a big puddle. Anyway I was glad he was alright. I have no idea what I would have done if he didn’t show up in the place where we were supposed to meet. Where to start looking? And when? We didn’t even have working mobile phones to get in touch. So I’m glad nothing happened.

Hue PagodaI went on a tour. It wasn’t organised by Cafe on Thu Wheels. If it wasn’t raining I think I would go on a motorbike tour they offer. Anyway, we had a bus. The first thing we saw was the Thien Mu Pagoda (pagoda of the Heavenly Lady). It is located on a hill overlooking the Perfume River. In the autumn, flowers from orchards upriver from Hue fall into the water, giving the river a perfume-like aroma, hence the soubriquet. Hue Thien Mu PagodaLegend has it that the pagoda was founded after and old woman dressed in red gown and green trousers appeared on the hill and prophesied that soon a true king will come here and build a pagoda that will attract and converge all the heavenly forces and energies of the Dragon Veins. After saying it the woman vanished. And so it happened. I guess you can call it a self-fulfilling prophecy as the king that build it heard it before he made a decision.

The most characteristic building is the wedding cake like tower. It has seven storeys which represent incarnations of Buddha.

bonsaiWe then visited a garden. It was a special garden with different types of plants and flowers. I think it was Ngoc Son which was the former residence of the Princess Ngoc Son, daughter of Emperor Dong Khanh. But it might be some other garden as well. it wasn’t a big thing for me and maybe because of the season it wasn’t anything special. Almost no blooming flowers, everything wet and gray. Well you have to pay a price for travelling out of season. I was really looking forward to the tombs. So let’s move forward to it.

When you think about royal tombs in hue think more of a pleasure grounds and temples than cementaries and mausoleums. They combine park like landscapes and lakes with traditional architecture. Each tomb consists of: a pavilon housing a stele recording the emperor’s achievements, a brick paved court of honour where life sized stone mandarins and animal figures stand in attendence, a tample with funerary tablet and precious items belonging to the emperor, a masoleum and houses for guards and servants. Each of the tombs is different though.

The Tomb of Minh Mang (also called Hieu Tomb)

Minh Mang Tomb gatesMinh Mang was possibly the greatest of Nguyen emperors. This 28 hectare tomb is surrounded by an oval wall of 1700 meters. Originally, the tomb consisted of 40 architectural constructions symmetrically arranged along a 700 meter axis. It is known for its solemnity and precise layout. It is a UNESCO World heritage Site.mandarins

Dai Hong Mon: It is the main gate to enter the tomb. The gate presents three paths with 24 heaving roofs covered with beautiful decorations. The gate was opened only once to bring the Emperor’s coffin to the tomb, and had been tightly closed since then. Visitors have to use the two side-gates Ta Hong Mon (Left Gate) and Huu Hong Mon (Right Gate).

Minh Mang stele houseOn the Salutation Court there are the Thahn stone statues of great mandarins, along with elephants and horses representing the royal entourage that accompanies and protects the emperor in the other world. The Salutation Court is divided into four steps – The Hien Duc Mon (gate) leads to the worship place. In the centre is Sung An Temple surrounded by Ta, Huu Phoi Dien (Left, Right Temples) in the front and Ta, Huu Tung Phong (Left, Right Rooms) in the back. altarThe Emperor and Queen Ta Thien Nhan are worshipped in Sung An Temple. Finally, the Hoang Trach Gate leads to the Minh Lau Bright Pavilion. It is placed on top of three terraces representing heaven, earth and water. It is a square pavilion with two storeys and eight roofs. The Minh Lau Pavilion radiates a remarkable, mystical atmosphere; it also features an anthology of selected poems of Vietnam’s early 19th century. On both sides of Minh Lau, two obelisks stand on the hills. In the back of Minh Lau are two flower gardens designed as the character “Longevity”.

The stele house keeps the Thanh Duc Than Cong Stele consistion of an essay of 2500 Chinese characters of Thieu Tri emperor that was carved to praise the contribution of his emperor-father Minh Mang and to describe the tomb constructing process.

The tomb (Buu Thanh) – Tan Nguyet (New Moon) crescent Lake embraces the circular Buu Thanh (The wall surrounding the grave). There are three bridges on Tan Nguyet Lake. Minh Mang TombVisitors have to climb 33 Thanh stone steps to reach the sepulchre of the Emperor. We were in fact not allowed to climb those stairs I think because of the restoration works.

Tu Duc Tomb

Tu Duc Tomb boardLocated in a narrow valley, Tu Duc Tomb is one of the most beautifully designed complexes among the tombs of the Nguyen dynasty. Embedded in a lush pine forest, this tomb is the final resting place of Emperor Tu Duc who had the longest reign of all emperors of the Nguyen dynasty. In his lifetime, the Emperor Tu Duc used the tomb as a palatial retreat together with his many wives and concubines.

The enormous costs, extra taxation and forced labor necessary to build the tomb caused protest among the workers, who attempted a coup in 1866. With the help of his generals Tự Đức was able to suppress the coup and continued enjoying the palace within the tomb for the remainder of his life. The royal amenities available at this tomb are unmatched by any other such structure in Vietnam.
Although the Emperor had over a hundred wives and concubines, he did not have any offspring. Lacking a son to write his biography and merits, which would be part of the stele inscription, the task fell to himself, a circumstance he considered to be a bad omen. His modest self-composed epitaph can now be found inscribed on the stele in the pavilion, to the east of the tomb. The stele for Tự Đức Tomb was brought there from a quarry over 500 km away, and it is the largest of its type in Viet Nam. It took four years to complete the transport. The tomb’s palace area has a lake where the Emperor used to boat, a small game hunting ground on a tiny island inmidst the lake, and the luxurious Xung Khiem Pavilion where Tu Duc is said to have retreated to relax and recite or compose poetry in the company of his concubines.

Tu Duc poetry pavilonIt was in fact designed by the emperor as a secluded poetic fairyland where he could write poetry and enjoy life’s pleasures and, in death, find a harmonious resting place. It comprises 50 structures enclosed by 1500m wall. The entrance is a Vu Kiem Gate in the south. To the right is the Luu Khiem Lake with Tinh Khiem islet in the middle. Tu Duc TombOn the tomb complex you can also find Minh Khiem royal theatre and Hoa Khiem Temple used as a palace during Tu Duc’s lifetime. What is funny is that the emperors remains are not there, his burial site is unknown.

I didn’t include many photos of Tu Duc Tomb in the text above, I will add some more in the slideshow below. From hue we took a train to Da Nang and then a flight back to HCMC. On the train which was better than our regional services in Poland a steward was serving a soup, courious thing. There was also a lovely girl, picture in the slideshow. It was hard to go back but to be honest I was looking forward to sleeping in my own bed. I think first time in my life I was exhausted with the holidays and finally taking a week off to rest after holidays started to make sense. We got very late back to London (flight through Bahrain) and it was so windy and called I hated it streight away. Now when I don’t remember the constant tiredness I start to appreciate how much we saw. The thing is, I know the balance between doing nothing and seightseeing is crucial. I think I’m just greedy, want to see as much as I can and sometimes it’s just so hard to give something up and choose. Unless you have unlimited time and money you have to make smart decisions.

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