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Hue was the seat of power of the Nguyen Emperors who ruled Vietnam from 1802 to 1945, and their impressive Citadel remains partially intact today despite the ravages of several wars. Legacies of the city's dynastic past are everywhere and keep visitors busy with visits to elaborate tombs and pagodas, mausoleums and assembly halls. Threaded along the beautiful Perfume River, which flows through the city, these unique and extraordinary monuments serve as a guide to the lives of Vietnam's last emperors.

The spectacular Citadel is built on the same principles and design as Beijing's Forbidden Palace. The ten-meter thick outer walls enclose a vast compound of palaces, temples, meeting halls and pavilions, many of which are now sadly victims of war and the passage of time. The remaining buildings do however give ample clues to the grandeur and elegance that the walls once hid from commoners.

The city is a traditional seat of culture and learning. Graduates of Hue's education system include Vietnam's famous general, Vo Nguyen Giap, and even Ho Chi Minh himself spent some time at Hue's National School. At around 4 pm each weekday afternoon one of Vietnam's most charming spectacles plays out as girls dressed in traditional, flowing "ao dai" dresses leave the university and cycle along the leafy road bordering the Perfume River.

Hue is a 60-minute fly from Hanoi or 90 minute from Ho Chi Minh City and is a 3-hour car ride from Danang.

Places of interest

The Imperial City
Construction of the Imperial City, designed for exclusive use by the emperor, his family, and his retinue, started in 1804. The city is protected by a series of four enormous outer walls that are 7-10 meters thick. Access to the walled city is via four arched gates, the best known of which is the Ngo Mon Gate, built in 1834.

The Imperial City contains a series of palaces, ornate halls, libraries, residences, and colleges. Much of the City, including the Forbidden Palace, was destroyed during a vicious battle between opposing forces during the Tet Offensive of 1968. One can spend an entire afternoon wandering around the grounds of the Imperial City, viewing the ancient architecture of the Nguyen emperors and scars of recent battles.

The Imperial Tombs
The Imperial tombs are one of the highlights of Hue, and are more like small palaces than burial grounds. The architecture of each tomb is unique, but common themes are a large stone courtyard filled with life-size statues of soldiers, horses, mandarins and elephants. Inside the grounds are a pavilion with engraved biographies of the deceased king written by his successor, and the temple where the king is buried. Ponds and moats filled with lotus flowers add life to the grounds.

Tomb of Emperor Minh Mang
Much of the Imperial City was built during the reign of Emperor Minh Mang. His tomb is located at the juncture of two tributaries of the Perfume River surrounded by rolling hills. It is said that it took 13 years to find an appropriate burial site for the Emperor and upon arrival it's not hard to see why this location was chosen. Set within an exquisitely landscaped garden it is a tranquil and idyllic place. The site is considered one of the best examples of Nguyen Dynasty architecture and artwork.

Tomb of Emperor Tu Duc
This tomb is located in an area of rolling hills and pine trees 7km outside Hue. The tranquil grounds are filled with trees, ponds and pavilions where Tu Duc would write poetry. Emperor Tu Duc had his tomb built 16 years prior to his death and actually wrote his own biography prior to his death.

Tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh
Khai Dinh's was the last Mausoleum built during the Nguyen Dynasty, and is arguably the most beautiful of all the royal tombs. Situated on one of the Chau Mountains, amidst pine, cassava and sugar cane, Khai Dinh's tomb is surrounded by natural beauty. Its architecture is a blend of East and West. It took eleven years to build and was completed in 1931.

Thien Mu Pagoda
Thien Mu Pagoda is one of the oldest religious structures in Hue and is also one of the most impressive. It was constructed during the 14th century to worship the legend of a celestial lady. In 1844, Emperor Thieu Tri added the Phuoc Dien stupa. This seven-storey stupa is 21 meters high, with each level dedicated to one of the various human forms taken by Buddha. In the 1930s and 1940s the Thien Mu Pagoda became an important meeting place for Buddhists. It became well-known worldwide when, in 1963, Thich Quang Duc, a 66 year old resident monk, died after setting himself on fire to protest anti-Buddhist policies of the government of South Vietnam. It is best to visit the pagoda by sampan as it sits on the banks of the Perfume River.

Tu Dam Pagoda
Built by a Chinese monk on the north bank of the Perfume River in 1683, Tu Dam Pagoda was a popular gathering point for Buddhists during the protests of the 1960s. In 1963, South Vietnam's President Diem ordered Catholic armed forces to fire on a group of Buddhists. Thirty monks and followers were shot. Though the pagoda has been damaged numerous times during Hue's turbulent past, many areas have been rebuilt.

Hue Museum of Antiquities
Built in 1845, the French converted this former temple into a library, and then a museum in 1923. The museum now houses a collection of hundreds of poems, decrees, and valuable relics salvaged from the Imperial City. On display in the museums front courtyard are various Nguyen Dynasty statues, gongs, and bells.