Notes on the Geography of Vietnam: Hue: the Citadel
Hue figures only in a near-to-final chapter of Vietnam's history. It as the capital of the Nguyen Dynasty, Vietnam's last. Ruling from 1802 to 1945, much of that time the dynasty was a French puppet. What did its capital look like? Vietnam had been ruled directly by the Chinese for over a thousand years, and so it is no surprise that Hue was designed to look like a Chinese capital.
The citadel is roughly square, with an outer wall of about 6 miles in total length.
The citadel stands on the Perfume River, and at the midpoint of the side facing the river there is a bastion with a flagpole tower. There's nothing "oriental" about the design: it's straight from the Vauban pattern book, except that the flagpole marks the south end of an axis that runs, Beijing style, through the palace grounds. Along that axis everything is symmetrically balanced.
There are deviations. One is that the axis is not cardinally oriented but instead is perpendicular to the river. Another is that the main entrance facing the river is offset several hundreds yards downstream from the flagpole and axis. Still, here it is: the Tian Mon, or Front Gate.
The citadel moat, with a bit of another gate peeping over the trees.
Once inside the citadel, you immediately face another moat and wall, this time that of the Imperial Enclosure. Entry is through the Ngo Mon or Moon Gate, which is on the central axis. The gate may look timeless, but it was built when Andy Jackson was in the White House. Construction of the citadel as a whole spanned three decades, from 1804 until 1833.
The axis beginning at the flagpole runs right through the center of this gate.
The Ngu Phung Pavilion sits atop a masonry foundation. The last Nguyen emperor, Bao Dai, abdicated here in 1945.
Inside the gate, the view is north across a pond, the Thai Dich Lake, to the Hall of Supreme Harmony or Thai Hoa Palace.
A view from the gate-top pavilion over Thai Dich Lake, the Trung Dao Bridge, and the Hall of Supreme Harmony. Call it a budget version of the Forbidden City.
The columns are a reduced version of those in Beijing.
The interior, with 80 ironwood columns, is more impressive. Audiences were held in this room on the first and 15th day of each lunar month, and there were additional ceremonies on special days such as the emperor's birthday.
North of the Hall of Supreme Harmony, a courtyard is flanked right and left by identical buildings, the Halls of the Mandarins. The cauldrons are from the 17th century, which means that they were antiques before the palace was even begun.
An air photo looking south over the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Trung Dao Bridge, the Moon Gate, and th4e Flagpole bastion. Beyond, the Song Hong or Perfume River.
View across the courtyard.
A third wall, circling the Forbidden Purple City.
The king's and queen's residences were here.
Within this innermost enclosure, the only building to escape destruction in 1947, when the French reoccupied Hue, was the Thai Binh Reading Pavilion.
It's in poor but recognizable shape.
Ornamentation runs riot.
Bits of ceramic tile are patched together.
A screen flanks the east side of the building.
Looking southwest across a pond toward the reading room.
Moat feeding the pond.
Water gate leading out of the Forbidden Purple City.
The western third of the Imperial Enclosure is devoted to temples and subsidiary palaces. Here, the entrance to the To Mieu Temple, where Nguyen monarchs were worshipped.
Nine dynastic urns, cast in honor of the Nguyen Dynasty kings. Precious view Vietnamese today can read the Chinese characters, by imperial order abolished as the official Vietnamese writing system in 1918.
The interior was restored in 1951.
Hien Lam Cac, one of several places for worship of meritorious officials.
The Imperial Enclosure occupies probably little more than a tenth of the area within the citadel, most of which is a very lively residential neighborhood.
Streets and alleys are neatly gridded.
The Ngu Ha Canal runs through the citadel north of the imperial enclosure.
Market within the citadel.
The citadel's east gate is topped up with a later fortification.
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