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Imperial City of Huế

Coordinates: 16°28′11″N 107°34′40″E / 16.46972°N 107.57778°E / 16.46972; 107.57778
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Imperial City
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Meridian Gate as viewed from the flag monument
Meridian Gate as viewed from the flag monument
Meridian Gate (Huế) as viewed from the flag monument
LocationHuế, Vietnam
Part of"Citadel of Huế, including Imperial City, Purple Forbidden City, Royal Canal, Museum of Huế, National University, Lake of the Serene Heart" part of Complex of Huế Monuments
Inscription1993 (17th Session)
Area159.71 ha
Buffer zone71.93 ha
Coordinates16°28′11″N 107°34′40″E / 16.46972°N 107.57778°E / 16.46972; 107.57778
Imperial City of Huế is located in Vietnam
Imperial City of Huế
Location of Imperial City of Huế in Vietnam

The Imperial City (Vietnamese: Hoàng thành; chữ Hán: 皇城) is a walled enclosure within the citadel (Kinh thành; chữ Hán: 京城) of the city of Huế, the former imperial capital of Vietnam during the Nguyễn dynasty. It contains the palaces that housed the imperial family, as well as shrines, gardens, and villas for mandarins. Constructed in 1803 under Emperor Gia Long as a new capital, it mostly served a ceremonial function during the French colonial period. After the end of the monarchy in 1945, it suffered heavy damage and neglect during the Indochina Wars through the 1980s. The Imperial City was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 and is undergoing restoration.


Silk painting depicting Huế imperial court

Nguyễn dynasty[edit]

In June 1802, after more than a century of division and the defeat of the Tây Sơn dynasty, Nguyễn Ánh ascended the throne of a unified Vietnam and proclaimed himself Emperor Gia Long. With a nation now stretching from the Red River Delta to the Mekong Delta, Emperor Gia Long moved the capital from the northern Thăng Long (current Hanoi) to Huế, the ancestral seat of the Nguyễn lords. Gia Long looked to "Confucianism and Chinese models of statecraft" as the best modes of authority, and with this ideology, he ordered the construction of a palace complex based on Beijing's Forbidden City in Huế.[1] Geomancers were consulted as to a propitious location site for the new city, and construction began in 1803. Thousands of workers were ordered to build the walled citadel and ringing moat, measuring some 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) long. The original earthwork was later reinforced and faced with brick and stone resulting in 2 m (6 ft 7 in)-thick ramparts.[2]

The citadel was oriented to face the Hương River (Perfume River) to the southeast. This differs from Beijing's Forbidden City, which faces true south. Rather than concentric rings centered on the emperor's palace, the imperial residence itself is offset toward the southeast side of the citadel, nearer the river. A second set of tall walls and a second moat were constructed around this Imperial City, within which many edifices were added in a series of gated courtyards, gardens, pavilions and palaces. The entire complex was the seat of power until the imposition of the French protectorate in the 1880s. Thereafter it existed mostly to carry on symbolic traditions until the Nguyễn dynasty was ousted in 1945, with the Proclamation of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The abdication ceremony of Emperor Bảo Đại took place at the Imperial City on 30 August 1945.[3]

Republican era[edit]

In its prime, the Purple Forbidden City had many buildings and hundreds of rooms. Once vacated, it suffered from neglect, termite ravages, and inclement weather including a number of cyclones. Most destructive were man-made crises, as evidenced by the bullet holes still visible from the military conflicts of the 20th century.[2]

Major losses occurred in 1947 when the Việt Minh seized the Citadel in February. The French led counter-attack operations where they laid siege and engaged in a six-week ensuing battle which destroyed many of the major structures. The core of the city, including the Imperial Palace, was burned.[4]

The Citadel came under fire again in the early morning of January 31, 1968. As part of the Tet Offensive, a Division-sized force of the People's Army of Vietnam and Viet Cong soldiers launched a coordinated attack on Huế, seizing most of the city. During the initial phases of the Battle of Huế, due to Huế's religious and cultural status, United States Marines troops were ordered not to bomb or shell the city, for fear of destroying the historic structures; but as casualties mounted in house-to-house fighting, these restrictions were progressively lifted and the fighting caused substantial damage to the Imperial City.[5] Viet Cong troops occupied some portions of the citadel while South Vietnamese troops occupied others; and allied warplanes targeted the anti-aircraft guns the communists had mounted on the citadel's outer towers.[6] Out of 160 buildings, only 10 major sites remain after the battle, such as the Thái Hòa and Cần Thanh temples, Thế Miếu, and Hiển Lâm Các.

The city was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993 as part of the Complex of Huế Monuments. The buildings that remain are being restored and preserved. The latest, and so far largest, restoration project was planned to conclude in 2015.[7]


Huế Imperial City map, 1909
Pavilion in Imperial City of Huế, Thừa Thiên Huế

The grounds of the Imperial City are protected by fortified ramparts 2 by 2 kilometres (1.2 by 1.2 mi), and ringed by a moat. The water in the moat is routed from the Hương River through a series of sluice gates. This enclosure is the citadel (Kinh thành).

Inside the citadel is the Imperial City (Hoàng thành; 皇城), with a perimeter wall some 2.5 kilometres (1.6 mi) in length.

Within the Imperial City is the Purple Forbidden City (Tử cấm thành; 紫禁城), a term identical to the Forbidden City in Beijing. Access to the innermost enclosure was restricted to the imperial family.[citation needed]

Imperial City gates[edit]

  • Cửa Đông Nam (Southeast Gate), also called cửa Thượng Tứ
  • Cửa Chính Đông (East Gate) also called cửa Đông Ba
  • Cửa Đông Bắc (Northeast Gate) also called cửa Trài or cửa Mang Cá nhỏ
  • Cửa Chính Bắc (North Gate), also known as cửa Hậu or cửa Mang Cá lớn
  • Cửa Tây (West Gate)
  • Cửa Thể Nhân, popularly called cửa Ngăn

Purple Forbidden City main gates[edit]

  • Ngọ Môn (午門) (south)
  • Cửa Hòa Bình (和平門) (north)
  • Cửa Chương Đức (彰德門) (west)
  • Cửa Hiển Nhơn (顯仁門) (east)

Outer Court[edit]

  • Điện Thái Hòa (太和殿)
  • Điện Phụng Tiên (奉先殿)
  • Cung Trường Sanh (長生宮)
  • Cung Diên Thọ (延壽宮)

Temples and places of worship[edit]

  • Triệu Miếu (肇廟)
  • Thái Miếu (太廟)
  • Hưng Miếu (興廟)
  • Thế Miếu (世廟)
  • Điện Phụng Tiên (奉先殿)
  • Hiển Lâm Các (顯臨閣)

Inner Court[edit]

  • Đại Cung môn (大宮門)
  • Tả vu (左廡), Hữu vu (右廡)
  • Điện Cần Chánh (勤政殿)
  • Điện Võ Hiển (武顯殿)
  • Điện Văn Minh (文明殿)
  • Điện Trinh Minh (貞明殿)
  • Điện Quang Minh (光明殿)
  • Điện Càn Thành (乾成殿)
  • Điện Khôn Thái (坤泰殿)
  • Viện Thuận Huy (順徽院)
  • Viện Dưỡng Tâm (養心院)
  • Ngự Tiền Văn phòng (御前文房)
  • Lục Viện (六院)
  • Điện Minh Thận (明慎殿)


  • Vườn Ngự Uyển (紹芳園)




  1. ^ Logan, William S. (2005-12-01). "The Cultural Role of Capital Cities: Hanoi and Hue, Vietnam". Pacific Affairs. 78 (4): 559–575. doi:10.5509/2005784559. ISSN 0030-851X.
  2. ^ a b "The Citadel". hueworldheritage.org.vn. Archived from the original on 2019-08-30. Retrieved 2017-01-18.
  3. ^ "Bảo Đại trao kiếm giả cho 'cách mạng'?". BBC News Tiếng Việt (in Vietnamese). 2015-09-04. Retrieved 2022-08-17.
  4. ^ Perlez, Jane (February 16, 2004). "Hue Journal; Vietnam Slowly Restores Imperial City With a Grim Past". The New York Times.
  5. ^ Shulimson, Jack; LtCol. Leonard Blasiol; Charles R. Smith; Capt. David A. Dawson (1997). U.S. Marines in Vietnam: 1968, the Defining Year. History and Museums Division, USMC. p. 205. ISBN 0-16-049125-8.Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  6. ^ "AP WAS THERE: The Vietnam War's Tet Offensive | WTOP". wtop.com. Archived from the original on 2018-01-31.
  7. ^ Vietnam to spend 61 million dollars to restore Hue royal citadel. Retrieved 2012-07-26.

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