You may have heard of Hanoi being the seat of power for Vietnamese Emperors for over a thousand years, but did you know Hue was the Imperial City of the final feudal dynasty, the Nguyen? The wars have taken their toll on the royal complex; of the original 160 buildings, only less than 10 percent remain. However, ongoing restoration efforts have ensured its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Once you pass the Ngo Mon Gate, you’ll immediately see Thai Hoa Palace. The building and its courtyard were used for important ceremonies. The red-and-gold-accented To Mieu Temples were places of worship for deceased Nguyen royalty. Fortunately, most of the Forbidden City – where Emperors and their families lived and worked – was leveled. The emperor’s mother and grandmother dwelled in Dien Tho Palace. For downtime, Emperors retreated to the royal reading room in Thai Binh Lau. The Royal Treasury was rebuilt in the early 1900s with a distinctively French style thanks to colonization. Artists once entertained Emperors, royalty, and courtiers in Vietnam’s oldest theater, Duyet Thi Duong. Today, the place holds many important cultural events organized by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism. It is also an attractive place to tourists who are curious about Nha Nhac (court music), another UNESCO-recognized intangible cultural heritage.
The emperors’ final resting places are scattered along the Huong River. It takes two full days to see all the tombs, so here’s a quick rundown. Gia Long Tomb is best for adventurers, as it’s remote, rarely visited, and enormous. History and culture lovers should go to the stately and colorful Minh Mang Tomb, or the colorful and artistic Tu Duc Tomb. Khai Dinh Tomb is an eclectic blend of Chinese, Vietnamese, French, and Cambodian architecture, set on a pine-covered hill. Duc Tomb is within the city, a small and humble resting place for a three-day Emperor.