I found out why the Nguyen emperors or more specifically, Emperor Gia Long, sited the Citadel at Hue. It was because according to the laws of geomancy this was a particularly auspicious location.
The Citadel is located on the Perfume River, facing south-west towards a low rise of hills which block bad energy, while in the river to each side of the Citadel are two small islands – one representing the benevolent spirit of the blue dragon, and the other the aggressive white tiger…balancing each other out. These kind of things matter a lot in Vietnam.
Anyway. The Citadel is a huge 520 hectare site, divided into three concentric enclosures with the outside one surrounded by a seven-metre-high, 22-metre-thick brick and earth wall, which is then encircled by a moat.
It was built in the early nineteenth century and housed the Imperial City (administration, parks, temples) towards the outside, and The Forbidden Purple City (royal palaces) in the centre.
By 1975, only 20 of the original 148 buildings were still standing, but due to an ongoing restoration program, there are more than that today.
It seems each of the 13 Emperors were right characters and the stories that our guide told us were fascinating. One of the last of the Emperors, Khai Dinh (1916-25) was vain and closely aligned with the French. He was particularly enamoured with French architecture and style and was a flashy dresser. It is rumoured that he brought a set of fairy lights back from France and then wore them around his Palace like a human Christmas tree until the batteries ran out. (More about him later when we visit his mausoleum.)
The red box in this pic houses a dragon – but doesn’t it look like a prototype for the Tardis?
Of course, no auspicious location would be complete without regulation gold fish. We bought bags of fish food for about the equivalent of 10c Australian and then watched the chaos unfold! You’d think these ones were never fed.
Tomorrow: the Emperors’ mausoleums
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