Hue, the imperial capital of Vietnam until 1945, when the last emperor, Bao Dai abdicated, is a city steeped in traditionalism, culture and art. Hue and its surroundings feature impressive monuments, ornate temples and pagodas and foremost, the imperial palace.
Renowned for its heritage, Hue’s residents are known throughout Vietnam for upholding local customs, traditional dress and the local cuisine, undoubtedly some of the best in Vietnam, as special delicacies were created here for emperors. Divided by the Perfume River, with the imperial city to the north and the newer center to the south, Hue remains relatively small. Getting around is easy by bike, cyclo or motorbike, though motorized vehicles are forbidden inside the imperial city.
The imperial city, built in the 19th century by the Nguyen Dynasty emperor Gia Long and commonly known as the “Citadel” is a remarkable place. Built in 3 circles of ramparts, the Citadel encompasses 3 “courts, covering a total area of 6 km, with open courtyards, beautiful gardens and private apartments. A 10 km. moat and thick stone walls created the citadel’s outer perimeter. The second circle enclosed the imperial city, the country’s administrative center, which was built along the same lines as Beijing’s Forbidden City. At the heart of the imperial city, a smaller moat and thick walls bounded the third circle of the Forbidden Purple City. A sole entry gate led to the Forbidden City where various palaces and the emperor’s private apartments lay, and where only members of the royal family were allowed.
Near the citadel, royal tombs dot the banks along the Perfume River and include the burial places of Nguyen Dynasty rulers Minh Mang, Khai Dinh and Tu Doc. Built in traditional Vietnamese fashion designed to comply with a certain directional orientation, straight lines and supernatural forces, these tombs are walled compounds each containing temples, palaces and lakes. A boat ride up the Perfume River is a “must-do” not only to view some of these spectacular sights, but also to enjoy the sculptured beauty surrounding Hue. Made all the more magical for its sites, the countryside around Hue is stunning.
Among its architectural wonders, a multitude of Pagodas dot Hue’s landscape, among them the Tu Dam Pagoda, the Tu Hieu Pagoda and the Dieu Du Pagoda, each with its own unique history and architectural features. The symbol of Hue and its best known pagoda is the Thien Mu Pagoda, a seven story structure started originally at the beginning of the 19th century and built upon thereon by subsequent rulers.
Steeped in the culture and traditions of Vietnam, imperial Hue offers not only a glimpse into Vietnam’s history and heritage, but a step into the adventure and romance of travel through its awesome surroundings.