Post under construction
What´s left of the Old Hué gives a vague idea of how the Citadel and Imperial City looked like during the times of the Nguyen dynasty. Was the city as enchanting as its remains are striking with their absence? What was the ideal of beauty? Who were the artists? Which details are authentic and what is much later translation of former splendor?
Presuming that I´m not the only person interested, adding the great outreach of internet, the blog may be a platform for us who want to know more and who have something to tell about the city of Hué. In time.
Few buildings of the Imperial Hué are so non-existing, poorly photographed and yet so well remembered and missed.
Old rare postcards showing the glimpse of this Palace are hunted by collectors and reaching high prices.
Kien Trung on the old postcard, undated, edited by Boy-Landry, Saigon. Private collection
Opening his umbrella, the servant of Kien Trung Palace is about to walk down the stairs…
The building right behind him is one of the newest in the Imperial City of Hué. Erected during the emperor Kai Dinh´s reign in 1923 it was a home of the last emperor Bao Dai and his family.
There were though some other structures standing on this spot before:
- Minh Vien Pavilion, a mirador, built 1827 by the emperor Minh Mang; three-storied wooden structure functioned as a viewing stage for
the emperor. The throne was placed on the top floor, making is easier for the emperor to admire the stars and being closer to Heaven.
- Du Cuu Pavilion built 1913.
The architecture of Kien Trung Palace was an example of Asian-European style.
Kien Trung Palace in 1930, photo: Wikipedia, public domain, copyrights expired 1960.
Bricks and concrete replaced wood, large windows could be seen as a reminiscence of French royal abodes. Vietnamese tradition was cultivated in lavish mosaics decorating façade.
Section of a model of the Imoerial City showing the Kien Trung Palace.
Model of the whole Imperial City. The Forbidden part separated by wall.
The building was placed on the south-north axis. From the windows on the higher floors the view was stretching on palaces of the previous emperors, the audience hall, the main gate, and finally the mast with the imperial flag.
Bao Dai inherited the imperial throne in 1926 but ascended it first in 1932 after completing his studies in France. Two years later he married beautiful Mariette, better known as empress Nam Phuong. The couple, with their five children, lived in Kien Trung Palace until 1945 when on the day of the 25th of August Bao Dai abdicated, handing the power over to Viet Minh and becoming citizen Vinh Thuy.
Despite the fact that we have to do with quite recent history, it is not completely clear what exactly happened, exactly when, and who did or said exactly what… Credible information most welcomed.
It is said the after Bao Dai´s final speech, when the limousine took him to his new home, the Imperial City was severely plundered. Partly by the crowd waving him good-bye.
Emperor and his family moved to another palace, An Dinh, situated on the opposite side of the Perfume River.
According the information given by the Huè’s Museum, Bao Dai lived in Kien Trung until 1947 (two years after abdication) being appointed by Ho Chi Minh as a state advisor. Other sources claim that Bao Dai was not longer welcome in the Imperial City.
This year, is also said; the palace was destroyed due to the military operation during
the war against the French colonial power. By the French? Tét Offensive of 1968 did the rest
of the damage. Other factors were surely time and neglection from the political
The perspective gives us the idea of how big the site was. Behind the lawn one can see two starcases leading to the entrances of non-existing Palace.
The brons basin is still on the Palace´s yard. The photo is taken from the newly renovated roofed passage.
There was a small pavillion in front of the Palace. It´s still standing, seen here in the opening of the columnades.
Unesco is planning to help with reconstruction of Kien Trung. Hopefully the palace will be ready in 2022
"ANNAM - Hué - Les Eunuques, gardiens du Sérail". Postcard issued by Collect. Dieulefils-Hanoi. Image symbol: 1007 A, Year of issuing: unknown, year of sending: 1915 ? (illegible), measurments: 13,5 cm x 9 cm. Private collection
Closer look at the lower-right corner of the postcard reveals information that the photo was published by the Collect. Dieulefils – Hanoi.
Pierre Dieulefils is yet today regarded as a famous and highly productive photographer of the French colonies. Including Indochina.
In my opinion, cards like this were not available on every corner of the Vietnamese cities. They were rather seen as some kind curiosity, an exotic souvenir required by foreigners. This needs though father enquiries.
The fact that the picture was taken in Hué means that someone, if not Pierre himself, must had travelled there from northern Hanoi. From Tonkin to Annam. Today the journey takes about 12 hours by train. Hundred years ago travel of this kind was done by boat. It took several days.
Next obstacle was entering the Forbidden City which, by definition was not to be entered. It is difficult to say whether the photograph was taken in the forbidden part of the Hué Citadel, or maybe behind its walls. For instance at the Queen Mother´s Compound. The glassed windows might have been an indication if only some more architectural substance was still extant.
One could wonder how was it possible to gather a group of eunuchs and make them pose for the photographer and the camera. Would they ever imagine that the picture was to be published and distributed? Probably not. But, here they are…
When it comes to the institution of eunuchs, Nguyen Dynasty was repeating the Chinese pattern. Whether the eunuchs were born as hermaphrodites or self castrated, they were highly required at the Hué court. The edict was issued by the one of the first emperors stateing that bearth of the hermaphrodites must be reported to the local authorities, which in turn had to report the fact to the Palace.
Self castration, painfull and cruel, gave however an entrance to a better life.
The eunuchs were working as a influential servants. Royal harem was their main domain where they were famous for various intrigues. They were also appreciated in the compounds inhabited by the Emperor´s mother or grandmother.
There was of course hierarchy within the group but the dark blue clothes with flowery embroideries and certain kind of hat were common to all, making them recognisable.
Eunuchs were rewarded for their services with rice and silk; the salary quite common among other lower officials and maids.
Outside the citadel walls a smaller temple was erected and offered to the eunuchs by the imperial court. They could pray there and find refuge being sick or feeling lonely. Being too old to work, they could live their last years there and die.
Tu Hieu Pagoda is cocidered to be one of the most important in Hué.
This whole section was reserved for the Emperor´s Mother.
Interior of the "Dien Tho Cung" or the Main Palace, as it looks today. Tablets with names of the deceased, insence sticks, and, so appriopriate, fire distinguishers. Photo: Robert Myslinski, March 2012
Wives of the Emperor could be many but mother only one. The Queen Mother.
The title was granted to her to emphasize her prominent status. The fact of becoming a widow gave her even more influence than she had being "only" the emperor´s wife.
In fact, she could be one of the number of wives and not necessarily the most treasured by her husband. As a Queen Mother she became Number One within the category of living ancestors of the ruler. Along with her powerful position went quite luxurious commodities which she could enjoy within the Imperial City.
By the moment her son was elevated to the imperial throne, she moved from the Forbidden Purple City, giving place to a future daughter in law. To her disposal she had the whole north-western corner of the Imperial City´s area.
Since the father of the emperor could have (and in the most cases did) more than one wife, the actual mother of the monarch lived in this quarter together with other wives of the deceased husband.
The actual mother was called "The Maternal Empress" or "The First Queen Mother". Needless to say, there had been " the second", and probably "the third" queen staying in the cosy complex of wooden palaces.
"Tho Chi" Gate seen from the Queen Mother´s compound. Photo: Robert Myslinski, March 2012
The Queen Mother´s Quarter was right behind the walls of the Forbidden Purple City.
To enter the compound from the south one should cross over the long internal road flanked by trees, and walk through the Tho Chi gate, the most prominent one among all four gates leading to the area from different directions.
Section of the "Tho Chi" Gate decorated with images of phoenix, the traditional symbol of the female sphere within imperial realm. Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
The first structure the visitor sees after entering the Queen Mother´s compound is the screen-wall decorated with paintings, reliefs, and mosaics. This wall protected the inhabitants of the quarter from the curious glances of the passers by.
Section of the screen-wall by the entrance to the Queens Mother compound. Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
Ducks and lotus leaf, detail of the decorative beoard running along the wall´s upper edge. Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
According to the imperial memoires of Bao Dai, there should be two outbuildings on each side of the Tho Chi gate but they are not there. Other source describes them as ”large houses situated amidst the Thuy Quang and Trinh Ung gates”.
Once on the inner side of the screen-wall, one enters a yard paved with tilling. Two grand old trees enrich the atmosphere and give some shade.
Yards behind the screen-wall in the Queen Mothers compound. Photo: Robert Myslinski, March 2012
This yard is formed by the wall-screen, two ante-buildings on each short side, and the third one, facing the screen wall, Dien Tho palace which contained the principal apartments of the Queen Mother.
Having the wall behind the back, one has, on the left hand-side, Thong Minh Duong, the room for conversation. The second of these two mentioned ante-buildings, on one´s right hand-side, was once a waiting hall for those who were granted an audience with the Queen Mother. The structure is now in ruins.
What the visitor sees today at this spot is the building called Tinh Minh. It was built in 1927 and replaced a wooden structure of Thong Minh Duong.
The present western-style version was used as a medical clinic for the Empress Thang Cung, the 1st wife of the Emperor Dong Khanh.
In 1950 the building was renovated and used as a private residence of the Emperor Bao Dai. It means that Bao Dai used the building, thus the Imperial City, after his abdication and overtaking the Imperial City by the Ho Chi Minh´s government.
The ”Tinh Minh” building replaced the ”Thong Minh Duong” conversation room. Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
The third, and the most important structure around the yard was definitely Dien Tho Cung.
This building, called ”palace” served as a Queen Mothers apartment and audience hall.
It was constructed in 1804, at the very beginning of the Imperial City´s existence. It went through several renovations, some during the reign of the Nguyen dynasty, others carried by UNESCO.
The palace´s names were many through the times of the Nguyens.
Emperor Minh Menh called it Thu Tho,
emperor Thu Duc recalled it Gia Tho,
emperor Thanh Thai changed the name to Ninh Tho.
The current name was given to the palace by the emperor Khai Dinh.
The palace is rather small, dark and has its charm. The furniture and other objects gathered inside seem to be a rather spontaneous composition of what´s left after the turbulent times. Studying the decorative, symbolic details one finds the pieces ,which are more suitable for the compound inhabited by the man, not woman. This may be the subject of another article.
Here come some photos from the Dien Tho Palace:
Facade of the palace. Photo: Robert Myslinski, March 2012
Part of the Dien Tho palace´s interior. Photo: Robert Myslinski, March 2012
One of the lanterns at Dien Tho palace. Photo: Robert Myslinski, March 2012
On the wooden walls depictions of the Imperial Hué. Photo: Robert Myslinski, March 2012
In the background smaller room with some ancestral altars. Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
Between the Dien Tho palace and the Tinh Minh building is a passage leading to another yard. This one is smaller and surrounded by the Phuoc Tho Am temple (Blissful Longevity) on the one side and the Tho Ninh palace, extension of the Dien Tho palace, on the other.
The Phuoc Tho Am temple, erected in 1831, is a two storey building on rectangular base. Wooden balcony surrounds the upper floor. The temple served both as a Buddhist temple and as a shrine. Queen Mother visited it on the first and the fifteen days of the lunar month an on the religious dates.
The second floor was known as Khuong Ninh pavilion.
The ”Phuoc Tho Am” temple. Photo: Robert Myslinski, March 2012
The ”Phuoc Tho Am” temple and the neighbouring smaller building. Possibly inhabited by monks. Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
Except the typical imperial symbols one may notice some Buddhist elements decorating the smaller building near by the temple.
Since the Queen Mother (or at least some of them) was obviously a frequent guests here, they might have allowed the monks to live in the quarter. But this needs farter enquiries.
Detail from the roof of the building neighbouring to the temple. One of the Eight Auspicious Symbol of Buddhism, the knot. Hence the idea of the monks living there. Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
Behind the temple there is a small pond with impressive tree in the middle. And two shrines on the opposite sides of it.
Backround of the temple, one of the small shrines and the pond. Photo: Krystyna Kirebinski, March 2012
One of the two shrines. Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
For the time being I do not have any photographs of this spot.
This building, being an extension of the prestigious Dien Tho palace, as well as the Phuoc Tho Am temple, is facing the yard right behind Dien Tho.
From the Tho Ninh Hall one had access to the quarter´s kitchen and storage buildings.
”Tho Ninh” Hall. Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
The concave and convex roof-tiles mentioned on the information board were given their shape to emphasise the Yin and Yang elements.
The Yin is seen as concave, inward and hidden. The Yang, convex; forward and energetic.
"Tho Ninh" Hall´s roof. Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
The Queen Mother´s refuge from the busy Dien Tho palace. Her place of leisure and "fresh air" as the information board below says.
Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
Surrounded by water, the beautiful wooden house, now silent and empty. Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
The pavilion´s current interior and the view, the Queen Mother could enjoy far from her official duties. Photo:Robert Myslinski, March 2012
Wooden carvings at the ”Truong Du” pavilion. Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
On the water´s surface water lilies, underneath: gold fishes. Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
In the pond the rock garden, a miniature universe, wuth snall bridges, pagodas, praying eremites. In the background: remains of the Ta Tra building.. Photo: Krystyna Kiereninski, March 2012
Situated near the eastern gate, one of four leading to Queen Mother´s compound, Ta Tra was a waiting hall for those who were granted the audience with the Queen Mother
Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
Here is what´s left of the "Ta Tra". In the background the eatern gate of the compound. Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, march 2012
From the Forbidden City and the Imperial Palace one could walk here whole the way under the wooden roof of the walking gallery. It is said that the Emperors, at least some of them, frequently visited their mothers. Queen Mothers were also consulted about various ceremonies by the eunuchs sent from the Emperor´s palace.
The Ta Tra building is going to be restored. The works will start in 2013.
Once again on the axial North-South road, deviding the Fobidden City from the Imperial one. Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
If I knew than what I know now there would be a lot more pictures of the Pavilion, its architectural details, its surroundings. Yet another reason to go back:)
The general view from the Imperial City. Behind the moat and the wall the Imperial city ended and the Citadels ordinary population lived. But the Pavilion was still part of the Imperial compound. Photo: Robert Myslinski, March 2012
After few hours of walking in the Imperial Hué one starts to think about a place to rest and something to eat. Some workers met around highly recommended a coffee shop by the northern gate. The walk would take a while but it would be worth the effort.
The long road flanked by the old trees leading to the northern gate. Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
On the way the Imperial Gardens. Photo: Robert Myslinski, March 2012
We passed the complex of the Imperial Gardens. In the earlier times it was a combination of the reach vegetation, fishing ponds, and pagodas.
Gardens were surrounded by water. Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
View of the Pavilion from the Imperial City. Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
Following the moat, we reached the northern Bac Dai gate. Right outside of it there was a nice building sorrounden by a small garden. Beatiful view, quite atmosphere, Nothing to eat, but perfect coffee, great herbal tea, and desserts called moctail.
Our lunch at the Worldwide Peace. Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
Since the building stands outside of the walls of the Imperial City and it looks being newly built I thought that it might has been constructed recently, mostly for the tourist. Well, it is not the case.
Pavilion of Worldwide Peace, view from the Imperial City. Photo: Robert Myslinski, March 2012
Lau Tu Phuong Vo Su, called in English Pavilion of Worldwide Peace, was built in 1923 during the reign of the Emperor Khai Dinh. Its purpose was to serve a a place of learning for the princes and princesses of the late dynasty. However the last Emperor Bao Dai, being a young boy was probably educated within the walls of the Forbidden City. Here, at the Pavilion, the pupils were princes and princesses of a lesser rank, children of the Emperors many concubines.
The fact that the Pavilion stands outside of the wall of the Imperial City does not mean that the princess and princesses received their education on the area inhabited by the ordinary people of the Citadel. The moat surrounds the building. Whoever wanted to reach it from the outside had to pass guarded Hau Bo Gate.
This two-storey house looks higher thanks to being constructed on a base. To reach the entrance one has to climb the staircase.
The architectural style of the Pavilion might be described as transitional. The typical Vietnamese elements of the roof and wooden galleries mix with the European-style silhouette and other elements.
In every wall there are windows facing all cardinal directions. This fact can be actually seen as the idea behind the Pavilions name. Tu Phuong means four cardinal directions (worldwide), vo su means without incident, safely (peace).
Emperor Bao Dai, in his memoires gathered by Philippe Lafond, calls the Pavilion Tu Thong Dinh, House Open to All the Winds.
The detail decorating the roof and the wooden balcony surrounding the first floor. Photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
The decline of the pavillion started right after the Imperial Hué was taken over by the Vietnams new rulers. The final strike was done by the battle of Tét in 1968 which left the house in ruins. Long and expensive restoring process was finally finished at 2010. The pictorial history of it is very well documented by the Vietnamese observer. Probably Hués inhabitant and surely in love with the city:
The question may arise what was the technology behind this solution. Where the dishes deliberately broken? Or maybe there was some kind of depot with the shards being gathered among the people? Or, keeping the turbulent history of the city in mind, maybe the shards was thats whats left in the Imperial City after several damages?
Recently I found a Vietnamese internet forum where the intense discussion is going on about the history, architecture and restoration of Hué. All in Vietnamese but with plenty of photos which help to understand what is the subject.
I asked about the mosaics and the answer came immediately with a written source provided.
Apparently there was a custom in Vietnam according to which the people of the villages gathered their ceramics and porcelain shards to deliver them later as the material for the decoration of the temple or other building. It was seen as a respect payed to the village´s important place often dedicated to some worshiped deity.
As I understand the people of Hué did the same hence they really had something to pay respect to and to be proud of.
In other words, the shards we see in Hué was once the dishes of the local community. There lost their function but they are still beautiful.
Area behind this gate in the western part of the Imperial City was occupied by the Queen Mother who had to her disposal some pavilions, temple, gardens. photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
Closer look reveals that the gate is covered with mosaics. photo: Robert Myslinski, March 2012
Protective creature, detail over the central vault. photo: Robert Myslinski, March 2012
One of the floral compositions on the lower part of the gate. photo: Robert Myslinski, March 2012
Window at the house where mandarins used to prepare themselves for the imperial ceremonies. photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
Close up of the window showed above. photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
While the shown above details are all reconstructed and restored there as some others probably remembering much earlier times.
Detail on the wall passed on the way from the Throne Hall towards the Theater. photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
Shards of the bue-white ceramics with delicate pattern. photo. Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
The building looks rather humble, without elaborated decorations. Its facade consists of quite impressive number of door-sections divided by pillars.
The size of yard in front of the temple gives an idea about the extent of ceremonies which took place here.
The building is quite long... photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
Inside each altar is dedicated to the specific emperor starting from the left with the Emperor Gia Long.
Interior of the The To Mieu temple, photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012
On every altar the photo of the emperor in question is displayed
Altar dedicated to the Emperor Gia Long, photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, March 2012