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Notes on the Geography of Vietnam: Hue: the Citadel

Hue was the capital of the Nguyen Dynasty, Vietnam's last. What did it 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 Dynasty was eventually reduced to a French puppet, and so there are French elements in the city.

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The citadel is roughly square, with an outer wall about 6 miles long.

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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. The design is 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.

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There are deviations from the Chinese ideal. One is that the city is not cardinally oriented but instead is aligned with the river. Another deviation is that the main entrance facing the river is offset several hundreds yards downstream from the flag tower, which is on the central axis perpendicular to the river. Still, here it is: the Tian Mon, or Front Gate.

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Another view.

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The citadel moat, with a bit of another gate peeping over the trees.

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Once inside the citadel, you immediately face another moat and wall, this time that around the Imperial City. 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.

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The axis beginning at the flagpole runs right through the center of this gate, seen here from the inside.

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The last Nguyen emperor, Bao Dai, abdicated here at the Ngu Phung Pavilion in 1945.

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Inside the gate of the Imperial City, the view is north across the Thai Dich Lake to the Hall of Supreme Harmony or Thai Hoa Palace.

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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 Beijing.

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Straight on.

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The columns are a reduced version of those in Beijing.

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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.

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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.

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An air photo looking south over the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Trung Dao Bridge, the Moon Gate, the Flagpole bastion, and the Song Hong or Perfume River.

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View across the courtyard.

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A third wall circles the Purple Forbidden City, the royal palace.

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Gateway.

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The king's and queen's residences were here.

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Within this innermost enclosure, the only building to escape destruction in 1947, when the French reoccupied Hue, was the Thai Binh Reading Pavilion.

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It's in poor but recognizable shape.

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Ornamentation runs riot.

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Bits of ceramic tile are patched together.

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Dragon.

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Dragon.

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Dragon.

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A screen flanks the east side of the building.

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Looking southwest across a pond toward the reading room.

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Moat feeding the pond.

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Water gate leading out of the Forbidden Purple City.

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The western third of the Imperial City is devoted to temples and subsidiary palaces. Here, the entrance to the To Mieu Temple, where the Nguyen monarchs were worshipped.

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Axial view.

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Nine dynastic urns, cast in honor of the Nguyen Dynasty kings. Precious few Vietnamese today can read the Chinese characters, abolished as the official Vietnamese writing system in 1918.

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Hung Temple.

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The interior was restored in 1951.

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Hien Lam Cac, one of several places for worship of meritorious officials.

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Most of the area within the citadel but outside the imperial city is a residential neighborhood.

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Streets and alleys are neatly gridded.

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The Ngu Ha Canal runs through the citadel north of the imperial enclosure.

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Another view.

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Market within the citadel.

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The citadel's east gate is topped up with a later fortification.



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