Understanding Hue Citadel: A Must-see Attraction in Hue, Vietnam
admin 11-06-2020, 13:54

The Nguyen Dynasty is the last feudal system in Vietnam that lasted from 1802 to 1945. Among many heritages in Hue Ancient Capital city, the Hue Citadel Complex is the most noticeable one for its size and cultural values to humankind.

This comprehensive guide to Hue Citadel Complex will help you to understand its history and structure, thus, when planning to visit this must-see attraction in Hue, with or without a Hue Local Guide, should be easier for you.

The history of Hue Citadel Complex

Before 1802

Before the construction of Hue Citadel Complex at its location nowadays in Hue, there were many ancient citadels built around Hue area by several Nguyen Lords. Unfortunately, their enemies who were Trinh Army .Later on, Tay Son Rebel, demolished Phu Xuan citadel during their civil war.

Firstly, when Nguyen Anh, who was the successor of one of Nguyen Lords, went on to unify the country in 1802. He chose the site as where it is nowadays to build a complete grand capital. He named it Hue Citadel Complex. It succeeded in serving as ruling center and living palace for 13 Nguyen Kings throughout 143 years.

Nguyen Reign of power ended in 1945 when the last Emperor, Bao Dai, abdicated in Phoenix Tower. Finally, he gave up his power and let Ho Chi Minh government to rule the country.

Understanding Hue Citadel: A Must-see Attraction in Hue, Vietnam
Thuong Tu Entrance Gate to Hue Citadel.

Wartime and its Value Nowadays

Although two most cruel wars, Indochina War and Vietnam War destroyed Hue Citadel. However, Hue Citadel Complex together with seven royal mausoleums, Thien Mu Pagoda and its satellites constructions became recognized by UNESCO as an outstanding Eastern Feudal Capital built in a relatively short period in 19th century.

Enamel Bronze – Phap Lam in Hue Citadel Complex.

Today many of its monuments are still standing for visitors to visit. A series of large conservation project is going in many different areas. The purpose is restore one of the most beautiful complexes in Hue Ancient City. Planning to visit Hue Citadel attraction is a must for you while visiting Hue.

The Architecture of Hue Citadel Complex

There are three most notable terms in Hue Citadel Complex that should  understand before you plan to visit.

Hue Citadel Complex from above.

They are Hue Citadel (Kinh Thanh), the Imperial City (Hoang Thanh) and Forbidden City (Tu Cam Thanh).

Hue Citadel refers to the large defensive area to protect its residential palaces, the Hue Imperial City and homes of many private princely residences. The Forbidden City is an inclusive area within the Imperial city designated only for the Emperors and their families.

While Hue Citadel Complex was the first and foremost an example of European-style military engineering, Gia Long Emperor relied heavily on oriental geomancy to decide its location and layout.

In this way, the whole structure is facing South with Mountain Ngu Binh serving as a screen and shield to prevent malevolent spirits to enter its south-facing entrance ( Ngo Mon Gate). A Green Dragon (Con Hen island) and a White Tiger ( Con Da Vien islet) guard the Perfume River in front of it.

A group of eunuchs in front of Ngo Mon Gate.

As a massive and costly project, it involved a huge expenditure and the recruitment of tens thousands of workers, many of them soldiers drawn from provinces all across the country.

1. Hue Citadel (Kinh Thanh Hue)

Vauban style fortress

Hue Citadel (in Vietnamese) used in this guide to describe the entire square-shaped complex enclosed within the outer walls, with a perimeter of nearly 10km. The significant architecture value here  the Vauban style applied on the Outer Wall of Hue Citadel which was popular in 19th century.

Construction started in 1805, a complex network of moats, rivers and lakes was created in and around.It protects  imperial city and local residence inside. They added ten outer gates  into the Citadel walls made it the most well-defensive city in Vietnam history.

The Six Ministries Department where top ranking mandarins worked located within Hue Ciatdel. It can be visited at 7am-5pm from Monday to Saturday. 

Many private princely residences scatter within Citadel area. When princes and princess came of age, around 13 for women and 16 for men, their fathers expected them to leave the Imperial City. Moreover, he wants to set up their own households. Thus, many of these residences can be worth your visit.

One of the most stunning ones you can visit and have lunch is Y Thao Garden, home to a royal member of Nguyen King recently open to public as a restaurant serving royal cuisine.

River system and local urban area inside Hue Citadel.

Visit Hue Citadel and its compound can be by walking, bicycle or moped. Hue Citadel Entrance is free of charge to enter. You can spend half a day or approximately 4 hours doing a self walking tour in this area. There are two significant museums which are Thua Thien Hue History Museum and Museum of Royal Antiquities. Here displayed many old relics of Nguyen Kingdom which you should visit as well.

Read more: 10 Nguyen Gold Treasures You only See in Hue, Vietnam

If you visit Hue for the first time, read Top 4 Places to visit in Hue for History Lovers as well.

2. Hue Imperial City ( Hoang Thanh Hue)

The Imperial City, often known as the Great Enclosure covers an area of around 37,5 hectares. It was built in 1804 and had a deep inner defensive moat known as Ho Ngoai Kim Thuy.

It embraces the Purple Forbidden City (See below) and a range of many monuments dedicated to specific functions.

Thai Hoa palace and Royal Courtyard in the crown Emperor Bao Dai ceremony in 1926.

Many of these notable sites are representatives of Vietnam art and architecture in 19th century. To name a few: Ngu Phung Pavillion, Thai Hoa Palace, The Mieu, Dien Tho and Truong Sanh Residences,…

Thai Hoa Palace nowadays.

The Imperial City was also well-guarded by four identical bastions at four walls. The most impressive one is the Ngo Mon gate which serves as the sole entrance to Hue Imperial City nowadays. Visitors also leave via Hien Nhon gate.

Ngo Mon and Ngu Phung Bastion at night

Self walking tour in Hue Imperial City costs 150,000 VND/ adult/ ticket and 30,000 VND/ children under 12 year-old. Visitors can buy combo tickets which combined two royal tombs, Minh Mang and Khai Dinh of 280,000 VND/ adult.

Besides, if you want, you can buy tickets for Tu Duc, Minh Mang and Khai Dinh tomb with 360,000 VND. You can buy tickets to Hue Imperial City at any site.

While you can wear casual clothes to visit Hue Citadel, Hue Imperial City Dress Code must be clothes that cover your shoulders and knees. 

You should spend around 3 hours to explore this complex. To have a fruitful visit, you should visit with a local guide from Hue, check out Hue Walk of Imperial City | Vietnam during Nguyen feudal era for your half a day in Hue.

3. Hue Forbidden City (Tu Cam Thanh)

Truong Lan Hallway in Forbidden City.

Lastly and centrally belong the Forbidden City, reserved exclusively for the emperor and his close family.

There are a big range of palaces serving for the family internal use. They are different palaces for the emperors, First lady’s palace and concubine houses, several pavilions and gardens of relaxation purpose.

Thai Dich Lake

Read more Harem of Nguyen Dynasty: From Rank to Honor here.

Sadly a very large number of imperial palace buildings changed during decades of warfare. However, when visiting this attraction with a local guide from Hue, it would be more informative for you to find out what happened to this place and what left behind the Imperial City and Forbidden City nowadays.

Ticket to visit the Forbidden City is included in the Imperial City. Thus, approximate time spent should be 2 hours.

You can easily get lost by yourself in this beautiful ancient city.