My first visit of Hue, capital city and home of the Nguyen Dynasty, was in 1997. The route on Highway 1 from Da Nang to Hue was interesting and comfortable in our air-conditioned car. We traveled up the mountains and crossed the summit at Hai Van Pass, known by the Vietnamese as the "pass of the ocean clouds." To that point, we had often seen in the distance the vast Da Nang Bay.





Our guide pointed out Red Beach #2, the landing point for the first U.S. Marines in 1965. He claimed to have been there at the time and to have worked for the Americans. Therefore, he said he had witnessed the beginning of President Lyndon Johnson's escalation.

The summit and Hai Van Pass were defended by the Chams (the pass was then called the Annan Gate), Nguyen Dynasty Vietnamese, the French, the Japanese, and by American forces. In fact, I photographed several abandoned French pill boxes at the summit.





Once we descended from the summit, we were in Lang Co valley and a fishing village by the same name. 



I saw the railroad which also crosses the summit and then carries passengers on to Hue or Da Nang. This quiet village was the scene of bitter fighting during the Vietnam War and the bridge we crossed had been destroyed earlier by the French.

As we approached Hue, we passed Hue's present-day airport. It is far from the city because it is located on what was earlier the second largest U.S. Marine and Airborne base. We would later fly from Hue to Hanoi.




Our hotel offered a view of the Perfume River [Huong River] and the bridge to the ancient Citadel on the other side of the river.




In 1993, the rebuilding of Hue got a boost from UNESCO's World Cultural Site designation, and in 1995 Hanoi granted Hue independent city status, placing it almost on a par with Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Though I was in Hue only for a few days, I came to realize its historic importance and its potential value as a place for student exchanges. It could also serve as a base from which to visit the DMZ next time, as well as the site of the My Lai incident of 1968. French, Chinese, and Vietnamese influences were quickly apparent here, and there are five universities in Hue. There is also a tradition of popular Buddhism here.

Hue, as noted in this online course, was the home briefly of Ho Chi Minh as a student. Before then Hue figured in the French seizure of the capital in 1885, anti-Diem Buddhist protests in 1963, North Vietnamese Army's seizure of the city for 25 days in Tet 1968, liberation of Hue by South Vietnamese and American troops, and final liberation in 1975 by the Hanoi government. Hue was the first major city south of the DMZ to be liberated. Through it all, Hue has survived and been rebuilt, but the restoration work continues, as I witnessed especially in parts of the Citadel complex which were destroyed during the Tet Offensive.




Later on the day of our arrival in Hue, we entered the Imperial City through the once-called South Gate, opposite the Flag Tower across the road, but now called the Noon Gate (Ngo Mon Gate). Our guide began our tour with a thorough introductory lecture on the Nguyen Dynasty, emphasizing of all things the number of concubines and children of his favorite emperors who had lived within the Imperial City.



Following the lecture, our tour of the Imperial City site began. The complex is surrounded by a moat, and near its entrance are lotus flowers growing in the water.  



  There are actually three entrance doors, which are very large, the middle one lacquered red and reserved for the emperors. The others are for civil and military mandarins and others. The upper part of the Noon Gate structure is the Pavilion of Five Phoenixes, which is flanked by two wings of two stories each. This building is also known as the Five Phoenix Watchtower; its nine roofs appear to be five flying birds viewed from above.

It contains museum items today, but it was used previously for declaring Tet, the lunar New Year, and for announcing results of civil service exams. It is also the place in which Emperor Bao Dai abdicated in 1945, thus ending the Nguyen Dynasty.



Walking north, we passed through the Great Rites Court toward the Thai Hoa Palace (Throne Palace or Palace of Supreme Harmony), which begins in the center of the Imperial City.


This would have been the route of processions. Emperor Gia Long, who started the entire fortress-capital, built the Throne Palace in 1805, and it was first used for his coronation in 1806. Later improvements were made by Emperor Minh Mang and others. Today it is the most spectacular of the palaces, partly because it escaped damage from bombing and it received major restoration attention in 1991. Its 80 columns, iron and wood, with swirling dragons and clouds on each one, were restored and painted with twelve coats of lacquer. It was also used in the past to receive foreign diplomats and for royal birthday celebrations.

We walked over much of the complex, visiting three or four of the main structures. Among the other gates into the Imperial City, we saw the Hien Nhon Gate, the east Gate of Humanity, and the Emperor's Golden Throne in the Thai Hoa Royal Palace.




Emperor's Golden Throne


My Guide to Hue Citadel contains the same picture. Before leaving the main Imperial City area, our guide pointed to the area of the King's Mother's Residences, now in ruin.

Then our guide told us he would take us into an area few guides introduce to their clients. (Actually, we saw a few other tourists in the area.) We walked over a large area of ruins, some receiving attention and others left for now neglected.


This area was one of the most damaged during the intensive 1968 fighting within the Imperial City itself.




  Several structures in this area, such as the Royal Theatre, are being restored. The Royal Reading Pavillion, built by Emperor Minh Mang, however, is still in ruin.


This is a view of an unrestored outer wall of the Citadel with the flag tower, located on the Perfume River, in the distance.  


Since restoration of one building was completed, we entered and found it to be a place of worship. This resulted in two photos within the Mieu Temple, built by Ming Mang in 1821 as a place in which to worship his father. It remains the place of gathering for Nguyens (to worship their ancestors), and altars for almost all of the emperors are within the temple. Where possible, each altar also has a picture of the emperor. All have funeral tablets for the emperor and wife or wives.


Outside the Hien Lam Pavilion and in front of the Mieu Temple, we saw jackfruit growing on a tree.  


Jackfruit Tree


Jackfruit prepared for eating


Nearby were the Nine Dynastic Urns cast by Emperor Minh Mang in 1836. They are bronze, they are named for the nine emperors worshipped in the temple, and they differ in weight and the artwork carved on them. Some feature river scenes, others show animals, and another shows sea products. It is remarkable they have survived the wars and elements.



Mieu Temple or Prince Temple


Following the tour of the Imperial City and other parts of the Hue Citadel, we had lunch at a restaurant on the European side of the Perfume River. Then we cruised the Perfume River to visit Thien Mu Pagoda and several sites related to Nguyen emperors. The seven-level brick stupa or tower of Thien Mu Pagoda is the most striking feature of the "Pagoda of the Celestial Lady" and it stands on the site of an earlier Cham temple. Each level represents Buddha's seven incarnations on earth. 


This is the oldest pagoda in Vietnam, founded in 1601. In the thirties and forties, this Buddhist pagoda was a center of anti-French sentiment, and in 1963 the Venerable Thich Quang Duc, one of its monks, burned himself to death in Saigon, having driven south in the blue car (an Austin) now displayed on this site. He was protesting the anti-Buddhist activities of the Diem government. This pagoda remains today a voice against repression and a sore spot for the government (according to the Rough Guide).


  On the site is the main temple or sanctuary, where we saw a monk whose picture we were invited to take. Apparently, he and our guide were friends. 



We next boarded our boat for the remainder of our river cruise. The second site on our tour was Minh Mang's Mausoleum, built 1840-43 by 10,000 workmen. He was the second Nguyen emperor, very powerful and distrustful of Western religions. As previously noted his interest in architecture brought major new construction to the Imperial City as well as this large garden with its lakes and pavilions, all in Chinese tradition. Here we saw once more many of the frangipani trees, with their fragrant white blossoms which remain in perfect state for days after falling to the ground.





Our final site on the river cruise was the Mausoleum of Tu Duc, built 1864-67 and regarded by Tu Duc a modest enough complex (he used it as his pleasure gardens before his death) that he included the word khiem (modest) in the name of every building.  



However, it appeared to me to be far from modest. We reached this site at the end of the cruise, having landed and rejoined our driver who drove us over the narrowest road we had yet used. The Stele House or pavilion contains a massive 20-ton stele which displays the emperor's own eulogy of over 4000 characters.




It is supposedly so long because Tu Duc experienced many difficulties, including smallpox. The latter disease probably made him sterile, for he had no children although he had 104 wives and a village of concubines who lived in the complex. Tu Duc lived longer than all other Nguyen emperors and used the complex over a sixteen-year period -- coming here to fish in the lakes, to meditate, to drink tea, and to compose his poetry (about 4,000 poems) and several works of philosophy and history.

My photos show the Xung Khiem Pavilion (in which these activities occurred), the boating pavilion, and a tall tower or pillar which bears inscriptions relating the power of the emperor even though he was among the weakest, not preferring to challenge Western influences.






In addition, there are photos of the Khiem Cung Gate opposite the Stele House and leading to the major pavilion, the Hoa Khiem Temple (used before Tu Duc's death as a palace), the interior of the temple, and the Royal Audience Yard, which contains statues of mandarins and horses.





This was a very beautiful and interesting complex, and we were the last to leave before closing. All stalls for vendors had been vacated by the time we left, which helped impress upon me the potential of this site for study, creativity, and meditation.

Returning to Hue, we passed Quoc Hoc High School. It is located on the main riverfront street and appears to be a prosperous site today. It was originally founded (1896) as the National College, training princes and future administrators; the only language used until 1945 was French. In addition to Ho Chi Minh, the school's other famous revolutionaries included postwar Prime Minister Pham Van Dong, General Giap, and Party Secretary Le Duan. President Ngo Dinh Diem (of South Vietnam) was another famous student at this high school.



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