Mediatheque
Introdution to Hue cultural heritage
Update: 12/12/2013 11:47:28
For almost 400 years, from 1558 to 1945, Hue was the capital for nine generations of Nguyen Lords in the southern part of Viet Nam (Dang Trong). It was the headquarters of the Tay Son dynasty, then the capital of a unified country during the reigns of thirteen Nguyen kings. Present day Hue still preserves tangible and intangible cultural heritage reflecting many typical values of the Vietnamese concerning the mind and the soul. For centuries the essence of the whole country was concentrated in Hue as a particular culture set in a romantic landscape of mountains and river. In hearing the name Hue, people often think of its ancient Citadel, splendid palaces and solemn royal mausoleums together with many old temples and pagodas.
 

 
 

   Thus Hue was based on both a physical and a spiritual foundation from the turn of 19th century.  It began when king Che Man, of the Champa kingdom, offered the territory of O and Ly prefectures as his gift for the wedding with princess Huyen Tran of the Tran, continued with the Nguyen Lords during the 17th and 18th centuries, the Tay Son dynasty during the late 18th century and ended with the thirteen kings of the Nguyen dynasty from 1802 to 1945.  All of these left a priceless cultural property in the process of construction and development of Hue. Typical of this rich heritage is the complex of Hue monuments that was inscribed in the UNESCO List of the World Cultural Heritage in 1993.
  

Located in the centre of Hue, along the Perfume (Huong) River’s north bank, the complex of royal architecture represents and demonstrates the power of Nguyen monarchical dynasties. Contained in this complex are the Capital, the Imperial City and the Forbidden Purple City clustered together, symmetrically placed along the longitudinal axis and facing south.
   The system of walls combines both eastern and western architectural styles placed in natural harmony with Ngu Binh Mount, Perfume River, Gia Vien and Boc Thanh islets.
   
Surrounded by a square wall, almost 600 metres in length on each side, the Imperial City has four gates, of which the south gate (Ngo Mon) is most typical in construction and is widely seen and recognised as the symbol of Hue Citadel. It served not only as the main entrance but was also the place where important events of the dynasty took place. Within the area of the Imperial City, the Forbidden Purple City was the area reserved for daily activities of the royal family. 
  
The main north-south axis, called Than dao, runs through the three walls of the Citadel, Imperial City and Forbidden Purple City and was marked with the important constructions of Hue Citadel. Hundred of small and large buildings were built symmetrically along this axis in harmony with their natural   surroundings.  These buildings include Nghinh Lương Đình, Phu Văn Lâu, Kỳ Đài, Ngọ Môn, Thái Hòa Palace, Cần Chánh Palace, Càn Thành Palace, Khôn Thái Residence and Kiến Trung pavilion.
   To the west of Hue Citadel, along the Perfume River, are the Royal Tombs, masterpieces in landscape architecture built by the Nguyen dynasty. Each Royal Tomb aimed at creating a living place for royal pleasure before becoming an eternal resting place after the king’s death. This resulted in the architecture of Royal Tombs in Hue being distinguished by unique characteristics.
   Each tomb reflects its owner’s life and character: the magnificence of Gia Long’s tomb in the immense landscape of mountains and jungles represents the spirit of a general in war; the symmetry and majesty of Minh Mang’s tomb combiners both man-made and natural mountains and lakes and reveals the powerful will and solemn nature of a talented politician who was also a poet; the peaceful and sombre qualities of Thiệu Trị’s tomb reflects the innermost feelings of an outstanding poet who made few achievements in political life; the romance and poetic atmosphere of Tu Duc king’s tomb  evoke the elegant and subtle tendency of a poet rather than the strong characteristic of a politician.
  
Apart from the magnificent buildings of the Citadel, palaces and tombs, architecture all set in harmonious natural landscapes, Hue also preserves a system of defensive buildings.  These include the fortress at the northeast corner of Citadel (Tran Binh Dai) to protect the Citadel from the river-way, the fortification of Tran Hai Thanh to protect the Citadel from the seaside, the Hai Van Quan gate which controls the road to the south and  the wall defence system surrounding the Citadel. Amongst this landscape architecture are many monuments including Nam Giao Esplanade where the king sacrificed to heaven and earth; Xa Tac Esplanade where the king worshipped the Spirits of Cereals and the Land; the Royal Arena (Ho Quyen) where fights between tigers and elephants took place; the Temple of Confucius with stone steles inscribed with the names of those who held national doctorates under the Nguyen; the Temple of Military Generals with stone steles inscribed with the names of national military doctorates; and Hon Chen Shrine where Thien Y A na Goddess is worshipped. With the natural arrangement of mountains and rivers, beauty spots along the Perfume River, Royal Mount, Belvedere Hill, Thien Thai Mount, Thien An monastery, Thuan An beach all provide wonderful vistas. 
  
In the past, Huế used to embrace many well-known royal gardens, such as Ngự Viên, Thư Quang, Thường Mậu, Trường Ninh and Thiệu Phương. It is very likely that the style of these royal gardens influenced the folk gardens which surround with traditional, wooden-framed houses and to be known as garden houses. Each garden house consists of manmade features including a small screen that represents a natural screen mount like the Royal Mount in the Citadel, a small pond or water tank which refers to the Perfume River, some rockeries and bonsais play the role of left and right protecting islets in the river in front of the Citadel. These symbols form the typical characteristics of Hue traditional garden houses. Therefore, Hue can also be seen as a place  of garden houses each with a peaceful atmosphere, a place of poets and performaners of Hue traditional chamber music. 
  
After 143 years under the control of Nguyen monarchy and based on  Confucian political institutions and principles, Hue presents splendid royal architecture. Moreover, Hue was also a centre for Buddhism center with and contains hundred of Buddhist pagodas. In relation to this aspect, Amadou Mahtar M’bow, the former General Director of UNESCO, commented in the application for safeguarding Hue heritage: “as well as being an architectural gem, Hue is also a spiritual shrine and vital cultural centre, where the intermingling of Buddhism and Confucianism with local traditions has given rise to religious, philosophic and ethical thought of great originality”
   In the context of a Confucism-based monarchy, festivities and music were strongly developed as part of the national identity. Ceremonies played an important part in the court. These included the ceremony of sacrifice to the Heaven and the Earth, the ceremony of sacrifice to the Spirits of Cereals and the Land, New Year ceremony, Doan Duong (in the summer) ceremony, Birthday Anniversary, Grand Audience ceremony, Ordinary ceremony, New Calendar Delivering ceremony, ceremony for the proclamation of successful candidates after national examinations and royal parades. Each ceremony had its own rituals and was accompanied by music.
   In the wider society, ceremonies were also diverse and included the ceremony of Hon Chen temple, ceremony for a good fish-catching season, wrestling contests, boat racing, ceremony at the communal house, Buddhist pagoda ceremony and temple ceremony and all were accompanied by ritual folk music.  In addition to the ritual music, music for pleasure in Hue consisted of Hue traditional dance, Hue classical theatre and Hue chamber music, all known as the essential spiritual food for visitors from different places. These treasures have been well preserved in Hue for generations. 
  
With the distinction of both tangible and intangible culture heritages, Hue is a unique cultural phenomenon, both in Vietnam and across the world. In 2003, Vietnamese Court Music was listed by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. This listing underlines the outstanding value of the traditional music of Hue.  
  
Nowadays, Hue has become the Festival City of Vietnam. Hue Festival is held every two years to display an ancient capital embued with the abundant values of culture, architecture, music, festivities and traditional gastronomy.
   These values of Hue culture will be preserved and enhanced according to world heritage international standards for the pride of Vietnamese and the appreciation of all nations in the world.

Phạm Đức Thành Dũng

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