The Citadel & Imperial Palace of Hue
My five week trip through Vietnam/Cambodia was already starting to get mentally tough. I had left New York nine days before and hadn’t seen the sun since. I had absolutely been able to enjoy some sights and scenery of Hanoi and Sapa, but it’s just not the same under gloomy skies. It happens at home too… motivation to ski, bike, or hike dwindles when the weather’s crappy. But moving south, Hue’s forecast was looking much better and I was optimistic – partly cloudy skies and only 20% rain was predicted.
My overnight train from Hanoi got into real early in on a dreary, yet dry morning. I got to my hotel, settled in, and got my bearings, figuring I’d walk to the Perfume River and maybe over to some pagodas on the north side of the river. I got about 30 steps from the front door of the hotel and the sky opened up – Just absolute monsoon rain unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I have no problem getting wet, but it was a whole new level; A level that left me imagining wading through waste-deep water in the streets. I spent the rest of the day within a one block radius of the hotel, venturing out only for food.
The next morning, it was gloomy, but the rain had at least stopped. I figured I’d book it over the the Citadel, the city’s ‘biggest attraction,’ while I could.
In 1802, Emporor Gia Long moved the national capital from Hanoi to Hue, establishing it as the political, cultural, and religious capital of the time. He founded the Nguyen Dynasty and began construction on the Citadel and Imperial Palace in 1804 (completed 1833). Encircled by a 30 meter-wide-moat (4m deep) and 10 kilometers of two-meter-thick walls, the citadel was made up of the Emperor’s palace, general residences, temples, gardens, and the Mang Ca Fortress. The Imperial Palace is essentially a citadel within that citadel with the main entrance at the Ngo Mon Gate facing a 37m tall flag tower along the outer wall. Temples and residences are located around the perimeter and at the center is the Forbidden Purple City (Tu Cam Thanh); a walled compound only for the emperor and the only servants allowed inside were eunuchs who would pose no threat.
Stormed by the French in 1885 and destroyed by the Americans during the American War (yep, not “Vietnam War”), only a fraction of the original enclosure is left. During the American war, the Viet Cong took the city during the Tet Offensive and started killing lackeys who owed blood debts – priests, monks, intellectuals, and anyone considered a threat. 2500 people were brutally killed. The United States responded by leveling entire neighborhoods, including using napalm on the royal palace. Only 20 of the 148 citadel buildings survived the bombing.
With it’s rich, but destructive history, Hue now consists of modern buildings and infrastructure standing next to citadel walls and pagodas and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.
I got a solid four hours of wandering around before the monsoon came again about noon. So hard, I was even worried about my camera gear in a dry bag and I broke down and bought a full blown poncho before wandering the 3km back to the hotel.
I definitely could have spent more time in the city, but screw it – it was time to move on in hopes of better weather…