Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Mr Nguyen I Presume

The central city of Hue was the imperial capital of the Nguyen dynasty for almost 150 years from the early 19th century until the Second World War. Nguyen is a name you see and hear often whilst travelling in Vietnam as it is the surname of almost 70% of the population! The emperors were greatly influenced by the Chinese and set up his own Forbidden (Purple) City, forbidden to everyone but their wives, concubines and eunuchs. This was surrounded by a moated citadel containing temples and administrative buildings and this in turn was in the centre of the imperial city, itself surrounded by its own moat. Unfortunately very little remains of the citadel and the Forbidden City as it was heavily damaged in 1947 during the First Indochina War and the job was finished in 1968 during the Tet Offensive. I'm sorry for sounding like a broken record and continually mentioning the war(s), but they have left an indellible mark upon the country. For example, the old, imperial city of Hue is surrounded by a moat and high wall with several gates. Of the gates that are left standing a few are crowned with ornate pagodas whereas the others have concrete machine-gun emplacements. Still, judging from the buildings that are left standing in the citadel amongst the frangipani trees, it truly must have been a sight to behold (but then again you would never have been able to behold it as it was a forbidden city).

Hue was the residence of the emperors of Vietnam in life as well as in death; the countryside to the south of the city along the Perfume River is dotted with the tombs of the Nguyen emperors. The tombs are very elaborate affairs with several pavilions, pagodas, lakes and towers. They are peaceful and serene and a lovely change from the hustle and bustle of the city. In fact the tombs were often used by the emperors while they were alive as Summer retreats, something I can't help but find slightly morbid.

No comments: