Hue – Vietnam’s imperial capital

Between Vietnam's largest city and its capital lies the ancient city of Hue, a place that is steep in ancient history and culture.

By Michele Koh Morollo for Yahoo! Travel

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Located in the province of Thua Thien-Hue in central Vietnam, about 700 kilometers south of Hanoi and about 1,100 kilometres north of Ho Chi Minh is Hue, the former capital of the Nguyen dynasty. The city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site along the banks of the Perfume River, is home to many famous historical monuments that are certainly worth feasting your eyes on.

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In 1802, Emperor Gia Long of the Nguyen dynasty established control over all of Vietnam. He made Hue the national capital and from 1802 till 1945, the city was the centre of the Nguyens, a feudal dynasty of warlord kings. Hue's star faded in 1945 when the last Nguyen emperor, Bao Dai abdicated the throne and a newly formed communist government moved the capital to Hanoi. Because of the city's position near the border between North and South Vietnam, it sustained much devastation during the Vietnam War. Some of the greatest damage to the city happened during the Tet Offensive in 1968, which left many of her beautiful buildings in shambles. Thankfully, in recent years, the government of Vietnam has made much effort to restore the ancient monuments of Hue to their former glory, so today visitors can step back in time and marvel at the brilliance of the Nguyen dynasty.

The Imperial City

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The grandest of all the historical monuments is the Imperial City, a walled citadel, palace and forbidden inner sanctum that was once the seat of the Nguyen emperors. The grounds of this imperial city were surrounded by a two kilometre by two-kilometre wall and the walls are surrounded by a moat, which was created with water from the Perfume River. Built by Emperor Gia in 1804, the Imperial Palace is a magical oasis with ornate gates, bridges and statues, rooms and halls with intricately detailed columns and roofs inlaid with gold,  pretty courtyards, gardens and lotus ponds. It was declared a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1993 and continues to be restored today.

Tombs of the eight Nguyen emperors

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Many other notable historical monuments can be found along the Perfume River, among them are the burial grounds of the eight Nguyen emperors, including Minh Mang, Khai Dinh, Gia Long and Tu Duc. Much like the pharaohs of Egypt, the Nguyen emperors would begin planning and construction their royal tombs while they were still alive. Most of the tombs face the Imperial City and consist of two complexes, one for the coffin and one for the funeral services. Each tomb has a different design that reflects the unique personality and taste of the emperor buried within it. The tomb of Tu Duc on Duong Xuan Mountain about eight kilometres from the city centre is one of the most visited because of its regal architecture and idyllic location amidst a hilly pine forest and picturesque lakes.

Thien Mu Pagoda

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Another must-see attraction is the Thien Mu Pagoda, the largest pagoda and the official symbol of Hue City. It was named after a mythical figure named Thien Mu. Legend has it that a celestial being in the form of an old lady named Thien Mu would appear every night on the hill where the pagoda now stands. She told the people that in order for the country to prosper, a pagoda needed to be built on the site where she appeared. The Nguyen lords heeded her advice and they each contributed to the pagoda's creation in one way or other. Lord Nguyen Pguc Chu introduced a giant bell and a stele erected on the back of a marble tortoise and King Thieu Tri built the seven story high Phuoc Duyen tower. Like the Imperial Palace, the pagoda has undergone extensive restoration and visitors can view its many antiquities today.

When to go and where to stay

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The best times to visit Hue are in the months of March and August when it is not too hot or wet. For a taste of what royal life might have been like, get a room at the Imperial Hotel (8 Hung Vuong Boulevard, Hue City, +84-54-388-2222,, Situated in the heart of the city, on the bank of the Perfume River, just a short walk from the Truong Tien Bridge and Hue Train Station, this hotel offers luxurious rooms with scenic views as well as a pool, spa and a good selection of in-house restaurants and bars. A cheaper alternative is the Orchid Hotel (30A Chu Van An Street, Hue City, +84-54-383-1177,;, a cozy, centrally location hotel with great service.

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