Must-Visit Sacred Imperial Tombs in Hue
Our ancestors believed that our present life is just temporary and life after death is eternal. So did the emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty. Therefore, plans for the tomb – their eternal home was made long before they left this world.
Locations of these imperial tombs in Hue were selected according to the rules of Feng Shui. Imperial tombs usually have a mountain or hill in front of it. This natural element is served as a Feng Shui screen which helps to protect bad things from going through the tomb area. The tombs should also face a calm river, a lake or a pond which is believed to accumulate good energy from the universe for the tomb.
If your Vietnam travel has already included Hue, then you have no reason to avoid such imperial places. Here are the 7 tomb complexes of the Nguyen Dynasty:
1. Gia Long Tomb in Hue
Thien Tho, which is the final resting place of King Gia Long, is a royal cemetery planned by the first king of Nguyen Dynasty, Emperor Gia Long. This is where you can find the twin stone graves of the king and his first wife, Empress Thua Thien.
With the twin graves, Emperor Gia Long wished to be near his first wife even in another world after death. The graves, temples, stele pavilions, etc. are placed along a long lake which snakes through his royal cemetery. Instead of being enclosed by a wall like other imperial tombs, Thien Tho design is widely open to the horizon where ranges of majestic mountains stand tall.
2. Minh Mang Tomb in Hue
The main architecture units at Emperor Minh Mạng’s tomb are placed on an axis in Hue. If you follow this axis to visit his grave which is located in a hill at the back of the tomb complex, you will find yourself going up and down continuously. From the Dai Hong Mon (Great Red Door), the main door to the tomb complex, which was open only once for the king’s coffin to go through, cross the greeting courtyard guarded with two lines of stone statues of mandarins, elephants, and horses. Then climb a staircase of the stele pavilion to reach a stone stele that his son, Emperor Thiệu Trị, erected to commemorate him.
3. Thieu Tri Tomb in Hue
Before passing away, Emperor Thieu Tri asked his son, Emperor Tu Duc, to build him a simple tomb getting the models from the tombs of Emperor Minh Mạng. Emperor Tự Đức followed his father’s last words and built his grave in a hill which is similar to Emperor Minh Mang’s. Like Emperor Gia Long’s tomb, this tomb complex has no walls around it. Although Emperor Thieu Tri also emphasized that he wanted his tomb simple, Emperor Tu Duc made it grand and beautiful. The temple at Xương Lăng is actually an artistic piece of architecture and design. Apart from the meticulous and clever carving woodworks, his poems were used to decorate the interior and exterior of the temple as well. It’s not over exaggerating to call his temple a poem and art gallery.
4. Tu Duc Tomb in Hue
Emperor Tu Duc built it as his second palace (apart from the one inside the Hue Citadel) so he could come here for a rest from time to time. This complex was previously named Van Nien Co (Ten Thousand Year Residence) but after a riot in 1866, he renamed it Khiêm Cung (Modest Palace) and after 16 years later when he passed away, it was recalled Khiêm Lăng (Modest Tomb). This tomb was made by blood, toil, tears and sweat of so many workers and soldiers that there was a folk song lamenting:
Ten Thousand Year, oh, Ten Thousand Year
Walls built with soldiers’ bones, canals dug with people’s blood”
5. Duc Duc Tomb in Hue
This place was built for Emperor Duc Duc, Emperor Tu Duc’s adopted son, who was only on the throne for 3 days before the head mandarins of Nguyen Dynasty imprisoned him to death. His son Emperor Thanh Thai and his grandson Emperor Duy Tan, who were exiled abroad by the French, were later buried beside him in this An Lăng. The graves of the empresses and concubines of these three kings are found in this imperial cemetery as well. Unlike many other imperial tombs of the Nguyen Dynasty, this tomb complex doesn’t have any statue of mandarins, elephants or horses. When his first wife, Empress Từ Minh, passed away about 20 years after his death, the royal court buried her next to him in Hue as well. Their graves are identical but we can tell the difference by looking at the dragon screen for him and the Phoenix one for her.
6. Dong Khanh Tomb in Hue
The tomb complex was previously built for Nguyen Phuc Hong Cai, Emperor Dong Khanh’s father. When Emperor Dong Khanh passed away at the age of 25, he hadn’t had time to plan a tomb for himself. The country was in a hard time, so the royal court decided to bury Emperor Dong Khanh next to his father at Tu Lang. The whole tomb complex was built under the reigns of the four kings: Dong Khanh, Thanh Thai, Duy Tan, and Khai Dinh but with some interruption here and there. Not very far away from his grave to the right is the grave of his first wife, Empress Thanh Cung. Emperor Tu Duc’s tomb and Empress Mother Tu Cung’s are also nearby.
7. Khai Dinh Tomb in Hue
Emperor Khai Dinh, the second last king of the Nguyen Dynasty in Hue imperial city, had his tomb built with a totally different architecture from his ancestors’. Built on the hilltop of Chau E, Ung Lang has its temple and grave gathered under one roof of Khai Thanh Palace. Most of the materials used for building this tomb were imported from France, Japan, China, etc. Although its scale is not as big as the other tombs, Ung Lang took 11 continuous years to complete. While the facade of Thien Dinh Palace is decorated meticulously with bas-relief design, its interior wows the visitors with its exquisite mosaic walls and giant dragon paintings on the ceiling. On his grave, there places a sculpture of the emperor sitting on the throne which was cast in France in 1920.
The knowledge is vast whenever it comes to discovering the uncharted stories behind each civilization history in Hue that you have walked through.
Just in case you feel intrigued by the stories above, check out our Half-day tour excursion around the Nguyen Tombs complex, right here!
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