The Imperial Citadel near Hue city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the must see attractions on a visit to Vietnam.
Cua Tho Chi Gate at the Imperial Citadel
The Imperial Citadel in Hue is open from 08:00 to 17:30 every day of the year and the entrance fee is 150,000 VND (about $6.5 USD).
About the Imperial Citadel
Construction on the Imperial Citadel began in 1804 following the ascension to the throne of the first Emperor of the Nguyen dynasty of Vietnam, Gia Long. Gia Long was the first Emperor of a unified Vietnam and for this reason decided to move the capital from Hanoi to more central point, hence the construction of the Imperial Citadel in Hue which remained the capital of Vietnam until 1945 when the last Emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty abdicated in 1945 in favour of the Communist Government of Ho Chi Minh, although in reality the Imperial Citadel had been stripped of authority over the country since the 1880s when Vietnam became a French protectorate.
Flag pole and walls around the Imperial Citadel
The Imperial Citadel in Hue occupies an area of approximately 10 square kilometres. The outer perimeter of the Citadel is 2 km long on each side with a moat around it. This outer wall is 2 metres thick and designed using the principles of French military architect Vauban. The inner wall of the citadel is 2.5 km long, and 6 metres high.
Meridian Gate at the Imperial Citadel
The visitor entrance to the inner part Imperial Citadel is through the impressive Meridian Gate on the south side of the Citadel. The area between the inner wall and the outer wall inside the moat is free to visit, and contains some interesting buildings and gates in amongst the residential area which occupies this outer part of the Imperial Citadel.
Walkway around the edge of the Imperial Citadel
As you enter the inner part of the Imperial Citadel you notice that there is a wide walkway which goes right the way around the length of the inner wall. The citadel itself is a something of a maze with lots of different courtyards, separated by decorative gates, each of which have their own building and palaces. This slightly chaotic design is a reflection of the process by which the inner parts of the temple were built, which is over time with each Emperor adding a bit to what was there before. Some of the courtyards are not open to public as there is an ongoing restoration project at the Imperial Citadel.
Can Chanh Courtyard at the Imperial Citadel
At the centre of the Imperial Citadel is the Forbidden City, or Forbidden Purple City as it is also known. Entry to this part of the citadel was restricted, on pain of death, to the Emperor, his mother, his wife, his concubines and the Court eunuchs. To enter this part of the citadel visitors must pass through the Ngo Mon gate and over a bridge across lotus ponds. Much of what was once in the Forbidden City, however, got destroyed some years ago.
Gate to the Hall of Supreme Harmony
The Imperial Citadel suffered badly during the Battle of Hue which took place during the Tet Offensive in 1968. The combined forces of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army staged attacks across South Vietnam starting on the 31st January 1968. The bloodiest fighting of the Tet Offensive happened in Hue, with both sides occupying parts of the Imperial Citadel. Heavy artillery, and bombs dropped from planes, were used within the confines of the Imperial Citadel destroying around 150 of the 160 buildings located there. Since the end of the war a rebuilding project of one form or another has taken place and slowly more and more parts of what was once there have been repaired or reconstructed.
Emperor’s Reading Room at the Imperial Citadel
Amongst the part of the Imperial Citadel that were left intact after the fighting is the The Mieu Temple constructed in 1823. This long temple has a large courtyard in front with huge nine footed metal cauldrons, and is one of the most impressive parts of the Imperial Citadel.
Gate of Manifest Benevolence at the Imperial Citadel
The Hung Mieu Temple is a restored temple similar in appearance to the Temple of Literature in Hanoi. This temple, built in 1821, was dedicated to the worship of ancestors.
Gateway to the The Mieu Temple
The Hien Lam Pavilion in the tallest structure in the Imperial Citadel. This three level structure, which is 17 metres tall, was constructed out of wood and brick in 1824. In front of the temple are nine dynastic urns which were cast in the 1830s, each weighing between 1.8 and 2.9 tonnes.
Urns at the Hien Lam Pavilion
The best preserved building in the Imperial Citadel is the Emperor’s reading room, also known as the Royal Library. This small building was constructed during the 1840s and restored by the Emperor Khai Dinh in 1921. The building is relatively small by the standards of the Imperial Citadel and is decorated in small ceramic tiles forming a mosaic. Emperors used this building as a quiet spot for reading and writing letters. In front of the Royal Library is a small square pond and a rock garden, both of which were considered calming features conducive to concentrating on reading and writing.
Hien Nhon Gate at the Imperial Citadel
The most famous, and most photographed, features of the Imperial Citadel are its gates. The outer gates are robust tall structures which are elaborately decorated. The gates within the inner part of the Imperial Citadel are more delicate structures built for privacy rather than as a defence. There are six gates in the 2.5 km wall around the inner part of the Imperial Citadel, and 4 gates around the Forbidden City, all of which are worthy of a photograph.