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Hué, an imperial city that housed generations of the country’s most powerful emperors, was built on the banks of the Huong Giang, or ‘Perfume River’. Hué does, in many respects, epitomize the best of Vietnam and in a country that is rapidly disappearing under concrete, Hué represents a link with the past, where people live in old buildings and don’t lock their doors. Whether it is the royal heritage or the city’s Buddhist tradition, the people of Hué are the gentlest and least aggressive in the country. They also speak English and drive their motorbikes more carefully than anyone else.
Hué was made capital in 1802 and served as the seat of the Nguyen Dynasty until 1945. Its architecture was consciously modelled on that of imperial China; it is grand in conception, massive in scale and far more ambitious than any other group of buildings in Vietnam. Each emperor, and many leading courtiers, built himself a tomb in the surrounding countryside using court geomancers to select the perfect setting. Hué is built on the same principles as the Forbidden Palace in Beijing. It is enclosed by 7 to 10-m-thick outer walls, the Kinh Thanh, along with moats, canals and towers.Read more
Emperor Gia Long commenced construction in 1804 after geomancers had decreed a suitable location and orientation for the palace. The site enclosed the land of eight villages (for which the inhabitants received compensation), and covers 6 sq km; sufficient area to house the emperor and all his family, courtiers, bodyguards and servants. It took 20,000 men to construct the walls alone. Not only has the city been damaged by war and incessant conflict, but also by natural disasters such as floods which, in the mid-19th century, inundated the city to a depth of several metres.
Just south of the city are the last resting places of many Vietnamese emperors, and a number of war relics in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) can easily be visited, as well as nearby Thuan An beach, the charming Than Hoan Covered Bridge, the misty heights of Bach Ma National Park and the stunning Hai Van Pass, which should be travelled by train.