Hue's new tourist attraction: "Impressions and Treasures from the Imperial City"
Update: 23/05/2014 08:57:04
Enriching the tourist product has been a matter of much concern in Hue – the cultural-tourist center of Vietnam. At Hue Festival 2014 (April 12–20/4/2014), a new tourist attraction – a permanent exhibition named "Impressions and Treasures from the Imperial City" – will be launched at the former Mandarin House Ta Vu (Ta Vu in brief).

The Ta Vu is part of the Can Chanh Palace complex in the Forbidden Purple City. It used to support activities organized at Cần Chánh Palace (the official audiences with the emperors, the royal feasts, the meetings of the security council, and so on.) It was reserved for civil mandarins who prepared for audiences there. It was built from vo brick and mortar; its roof was covered with blue enameled tube tiles; its verandah or house columns were made of wood with a Thanh stone base. Following many ups and downs, the Tả Vu has been restored and repaired many times. Its present appearance dates from the beginning of the twentieth century when the main materials used were bricks and mortar in the traditional decorative style; the European color scheme was applied to the ceiling and walls.

Due to the special historical and aesthetic values of this location, Hue Monuments Conservation Center has been cooperating with German Conservation Restoration and Education Projects (GCREP) to carry out the project "Conservation and Restoration of the Interior Décor of the Ta Vu building followed by Conception and Implementation of a Permanent Exhibition". The Federal Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany sponsored the project and Thừa Thiên Huế Province granted additional funding.

Today the Ta Vu can serve as an ideal historical showroom for the traditional values of Hue heritage. Visitors to this building at the heart of the Imperial City now have a chance to gain an overview of the life and work of the former rulers – the Nguyen Dynasty – and their royal court.

The exhibition "Impressions and Treasures from the Imperial City" focuses specifically on the following themes: the everyday life, rituals, personalities, and structures of the royal court of the mighty Nguyen Dynasty. On each of 17 large-format panels, a compilation of images and reproductions of photographs from the imperial era illustrates a different theme. Additional information – about the emperors and their families, the architecture and staff of the court, and the role played in daily life by ceremonies, music, clothing, and cuisine – is presented in easy to read, short texts. This appealing panorama is complemented by original porcelain and bronze artifacts used in imperial gastronomy and for pleasurable leisure. All this amid freshly restored wall and ceiling paintings makes the former Mandarin House at the heart of the Imperial City a "must-see" highlight for visitors – and a key to understanding Hue's UNESCO World Cultural Heritage.


         The exhibits at the center of the exhibition serve also as an "appetizer" for the collection of the Hue Museum of Royal Antiquities (HMRA). These few unique pieces on display draw visitors' attention to the many more treasures on display in the Museum itself. The "three-for-one" ticket-valid for the Imperial City (Citadel), the exhibition, and the Museum-puts the recently refurbished HMRA back on tourists' "must do in Hue" – list and helps assure it the international acclaim it deserves.

The exhibition offers a mix of easily grasped information:

- A central showcase display of porcelain and bronze artifacts selected by the Hue Royal Museum of Antiquities, complemented by details of their provenance and original function.

- Three large-scale panels in the entrance area of the Mandarin House outline the history of the Imperial City, give an overview of its original and meanwhile largely devastated architecture, and introduce the individual emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty.

- Impressions of the most important persons at the royal court, their daily routines, annual highlights and favorite pursuits are conveyed by the series of fourteen image/text panels flanking the showcases.

- A lectern on the margins of the exhibition is the single exception to an otherwise uniform design. Here, visitors are made aware of the recently completed conservation and restoration of the interior décor of Ta Vu – a part of which, above the lectern, was left in a partly unrestored state so as to demonstrate "before" and "after." Information about the various phases of the restoration process can be found in the brochure on the lectern.

A minimalist exhibition design was chosen quite consciously, not only on account of budget constraints. Such minimalism helps maintain the natural harmony and distinction of the former Mandarin House. The House still feels airy and spacious yet offers room enough for the most important facts about the Imperial City to be entertainingly conveyed. The by local standards sober design effectively contrasts the freshly restored elaborate interior décor, the lacquered and gilt pillars, and the look of the building. Visitors to the Imperial City can move about easily, without "traffic jams," follow the exhibition in part or as a whole, and let the revived aura of the Mandarin House take its effect.

The exhibition concept is respectful of the basic rules of communication: all the images on display were acquired from archives, most of them from France. Over three thousand images were viewed, discussed, examined, rejected, or selected. Many of them were badly deteriorated and needed intensive digital treatment in order that traces of the passage of time would not diminish their documentary impact.

         Material for the texts was also sourced largely in France. Numerous publications were read and evaluated then excerpts selected and translated, first into German. Then followed one of the major steps in the exhibition production process. Masses of original information of diverse provenance and epochs had to be condensed to an authentic, compelling and easily digestible form then translated into English and Vietnamese. The outcome without doubt leaves much unsaid; yet it nonetheless quickly and effectively enables visitors to imagine how the now largely vanished Imperial City once looked. Curious tourists gain a sense of what was customary and significant within the walls of the Forbidden Purple City. For a few moments, they delve into the daily life of bygone times.

Increasing numbers of visitors ask about the life once lived here, within this UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. The exhibition "Impressions and Treasures from the Imperial City" fulfills the wishes expressed by these inquisitive, "culture-vulture" visitors to Hué. A venue has been created that promotes better understanding, appreciation, and acknowledgement of the still existent and long since devastated local surroundings.

The exhibition "Impressions and Treasures from the Imperial City" is indisputably a new "must-see" on the to-do list of tourists from all over the world.  

Dominique Guglieri
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