Citadel of Hue is one of the must-see places when you Vietnam and Hue in particular. As a tour guide and a son of this land, I have a great proud to show my clients about my hometown.
Citadel of Hue was built in 1804 and to be completed in 29 years under Nguyen Dynasty, the last feudal dynasty in Vietnam. You will easy to see how popular Nguyen in Vietnam because there are 39% Vietnamese people having Nguyen as surname. Citadel of Hue is pretty large with 3 rounds of walls which are named as Citadel, Imperial City and Purple Forbidden City for different purposes.
While the outer Citadel was used for defense with flag tower and cannons on wall, the middle wall covers the palaces which were used as living place for Nguyen royal family from 1802 to 1945. Therefore, it was not allowed for normal people but royal family and officials. Some young girls who were recruited to be concubines in the Imperial City may not have a chance to see there parents again. So we joke that "giving money to him is like taking your daughter to Imperial City" means you never see your money again. The main gate of Imperial City is Ngo Mon (Southern Gate) which was used only for important ceremonies such as coronation or Emperor's birthday.
The inner wall is the Purple Forbidden City which was the living place of Emperor, his first lady and his concubines. Therefore, some concubines was the servants in this place beside many eunuchs. The Emperors had many concubines and the numbers ranged from a few to hundreds. For example, the second Emperor Minh Mang had nearly 600 concubines so we often joke that if he had one per night, he needed two years to complete one round. Nowadays we can visit every corner of the Purple Forbidden City and enjoy the beauty as royal family members. Individually, I do not want to be an Emperor like Ming Mang because one wife is too many for me. Please do not tell my wife this!
The Citadel of Hue was built with Feng-Shui, an oriental philosophy of construction and housing which was believed to bring prosperity to country or house owners. However, we can explain it as a kind of architecture which fits our environment and climate. For example, the Citadel faces to South - East which can get cool and fresh air in hot days from South-East, block cold wind from North-West in winter. It is the Feng (wind)! -Moreover, the Huong - Perfume river is the Shui (water) element in this philosophy to get cool for who lived in the Citadel and it provides a defense for the Citadel as well. There are two islets on Perfume river which are considered as left Green Dragon and right White Tiger, guardians of the Citadel. There are many differences from Beijing Forbidden City which faces to the South, and we have more differences to tell.
Although the Citadel was built with oriental philosophy but it was designed by European defense style - Vauban which was a star-shape citadel for great protection. However, it could not show its defense advantages during the dynasty. It showed in the counter attack by US army and South Army against NLF/ Vietcong in Tet Offensive 1986 in Vietnam War. It witnessed a 26 day bloody battle and there are scars in most part of Citadel of Hue.
History is a part of the land. It is wonderful to listen to the real stories from local elders who witnessed the history, not from course books. I can not wait to the day the pandemic is over, you come back and enjoy Hue in a sunny day of stories.