Hue – A Panoramic View Of The Ancient Capital

Hue is a city in central Vietnam and is a part of Thua Thien Hue province. In the past, it was the capital of Vietnam under Nguyen Hue dynasty and was famous for temples, citadels, mausoleums, and architecture associated with the natural landscape. Nestled in the gentle Perfume River, Hue is an important cultural heritage of Vietnam in particular and of the world in general. In 1993, Hue was recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage. Up to now, Hue has been well preserved and developed in line with the thousands of human wonders in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

I. Period of formation and development

In 1306, Princess Huyen Tran got married to the Champa King, called Che Man, (and) took two districts: O and Ri for the ceremony. In 1307, King Tran Anh Tong acquired the new land and renamed them into Thuan and Hoa. The name of Thuan Hoa was inspired by the merger of 2 districts under the Chinese domination (Minh Dynasty). In Hau Le Dynasty, Thuan Hoa was an administrative unit at the provincial level. In 1604, Lord Nguyen Hoang turned Dien Ban district in Thuan Hoa into the city and merged into Quang Nam town. Thuan Hoa under the Nguyen lords (17th - 18th century) was the land stretching from the south of Ngang pass to Hai Van pass.

In 1626, in order to prepare against the Trinh army, Lord Nguyen Phuc Nguyen moved to Phuoc Yen village (Phuc An) in Quang Dien district, Thua Thien province and changed his palace.
In 1636, Lord Nguyen Phuc Lan chose Kim Long Village, Huong Tra District, Thua Thien Province, where he founded the palace. In 1687, Lord Nguyen Phuc Tran, moved to Phu Xuan village, Huong Tra district and in 1712, Lord Nguyen Phuc Chu moved to Bac Vong village in Quang Dien district, Thua Thien. When King Nguyen Phuc Khoat came to power in 1738, the Lord palace returned to Phu Xuan and stayed there until the day of being defeated under Trinh army.

In Tay Son period, Phu Xuan - Hue was always a strategic area that Nguyen Hue chose as the main station of the military. In 1802 Nguyen Anh defeated the Tay Son Emperor to establish the Nguyen Dynasty and once again chose Hue as the capital.

Hue ended its mission as the capital of Vietnam in 1945 when the last emperor of the Nguyen dynasty, King Bao Dai, abdicated. Since then, Hue became the ancient capital of Vietnam.

1. The architectural system

Located in the heart of Hue, the architectural system signifying the power of the centralized regime of Nguyen Dynasty still stands before the movement of time. The Citadel is a model of the harmonious combination between the essence of East and West architecture in a beautiful natural setting with Ngu Binh Mountain, Perfume River, and Gia Vien Hillock. In general, the architecture here is mixed in the nature to create wonderful rhythms that let people forget the human hands that have impacted it.

When choosing Hue as the capital city, King Gia Long built the defensive capital: build a series of walls, palaces, offices, fortifications on the north bank of the Huong River. The above works were built in the traditional architecture of Hue, combined with the Chinese layout and military technology as well as Vauban wall construction from Western countries and the Geographical and feng shui principles of the Orient.

This construction lasted from 1802 to 1917 with a series of works serving the court, life and religious beliefs of the king and the government. At this time, Hue has formed its own style of mausoleum building in the philosophical style with the dominance of geomancy and geography, combining the style of Hue garden with Hue royal style such as in the typical tombs of King Gia Long, Minh Mang, Thieu Tri, Tu Duc, Duc Duc and Dong Khanh.

Beside the above works, this period was also the prosperous period of many pagodas and temples such as the four national pagodas of Thien Mu, Giac Hoang, Dieu De, Thanh Duyen and Linh Huu national temple together with many other temples. This has formed the meditation of Vietnamese Buddhism in the 19th century.

Since 1917, many civil works in Hue were affected by European architectural style. The premise of this effect was in 1884, when the Treaty of Patenotre paved the way for the French to construct European-style buildings in the town of Pingtai and the neighboring area: the Kham Su Trung Ky building on the south bank of Perfume River; a series of works such as the Iron Gate, the Steel House, the Doan House, the Lamp House, and the appearance of the Quartier Européen which led the formation of European civil architecture appearing in Hue.

In 1916, when the anti-French king Duy Tan was arrested and exiled to La Réunion Island and established Khai Dinh throne, European architectural style began to penetrate strongly into Hue including the Palace.

King Khai Dinh started to build and renovate a series of works with new architectural styles, non-traditional materials, which are typical construction of King Dong Khanh's tomb in 1917, renovation of Imperial Citadel (1921-1923), An Dinh Palace and the most typical example is Ung Lang with European style combined with oriental feng shui, decorated by Confucianism style. The successor of King Khai Dinh, King Bao Dai, also renovated a series of works in the Imperial Citadel in the style of European, creating a new architectural appearance for the population of the monuments in the capital.

2. The Imperial city

The imperial city is bounded by a wall of nearly 600 square meters for each direction with four entrances. The most unique gate, also the symbol of the capital is Ngo Mon Gate, which is the supreme administrative area of ​​the Nguyen court. Inside the Imperial City is the Purple Forbidden City – the living space of royal residences.

The two sides of Than Dao road are hundreds of large and small architectural works arranged in balance and hidden in the colors of nature, always give people a sense of serenity.

3. Tombs

Located on the two banks of Perfume River, the tombs of the Nguyen Kings are considered as the achievements of the materialized landscape architecture. The architecture of the tombs in Hue is a completely separate style of Vietnam.

 Each tomb in Hue reflects the life and character of the King resting inside: the Gia Long tomb is rustic but magnificent in the middle of the mountains, making the majesty of a General; Minh Mang's tomb is magnificent between the mountain, forests, lakes, and ponds which are skillfully embellished, making the heroic grandeur of a talented politician and the dignified personality of a poet and Tu Duc tomb is poetic, creating the image of a devoted poet.


4. The famous royal garden

Hue has many famous royal gardens such as Ngu Vien, Thu Quang, Thuong Mau and Truong Ninh. The style garden architecture here also spreads throughout the folk, in collaboration with the available elements, shaping a typical garden style of Hue. This is the city of the garden houses with the ancient houses seriously hidden in the quiet neighborhood in the ancient capital. Each of the garden houses also has the shadow of the Imperial Citadel, the thin screen instead of Ngu Mountain, the tank instead of Perfume River, two rock blocks instead of Da Vien and Boc Thanh Hillock.

5. Ancient pagodas

Nearly a century and a half, Hue was the center of Buddhism and Confucianism. There are hundreds of ancient pagodas in Hue.

 These pagodas are attached to the traditional festivals such as Hon Chen festival, Cau Ngu festival, and Tang festival. Associated with these festivals is the form of folk ritual music.


Nearly a century and a half, Hue was the center of Buddhism and Confucianism. There are hundreds of ancient pagodas in Hue.

These pagodas are attached to the traditional festivals such as Hon Chen festival, Cau Ngu festival, and Tang festival. Associated with these festivals is the form of folk ritual music.

6. Traditional music forms

The traditional musical forms of leisure entertainment are preserved in the heart of Hue city. Recently, the most joyful thing for Hue people is the Hue Capital Relief Center in collaboration with the Vietnam Folk Arts Association under the advice of many domestic and foreign scientists, has established Hue royal court music: Nha Nhac (The royal music of Nguyen dynasty) which is the masterpiece of the intangible cultural and oral tradition heritage of mankind. This activity is enough to express the innumerable value of traditional Hue music.

7. Hue Festival

Today, Hue becomes a typical Festival City of Vietnam. Every two years, the people in Hue City welcome Hue festival in the eager and joyful atmosphere. In the mind of many people, becoming a festival city is almost inevitable because Hue also preserves the typical appearance of a feudal dynasty where the architectural in harmony with the natural creates unique rhythms with festivals, music, and traditional cuisine preserved richly diversified.

8. Cuisine

Hue cuisine is the method of processing, principles, decoration, the style of eating, drinking and general the eating habits of Hue people. Over time, Hue cuisine is influenced by the flow of culture from different communities and the characteristics of the country, but still brings its own features which become a part of Hue culture in particular and Vietnamese culture in general.

9. Folk cuisine

Hue folk cuisine and Hue royal cuisine have some similarities because the chefs of the royal palace come from the folk and the ingredients are also bought in the street except a few precious types. In the rural areas, the meals often include crabs, fishes, and fresh vegetables.

In addition to the general features of Vietnamese cuisine, Hue folk cuisine has its own distinctive features. The first is the diversity, on every meal with many ingredients such as meat, fish and vegetables which are expressed through many dishes such as soup, boiled, grilled, fried and steamed dishes. The second is the aesthetics. All dishes are arranged neatly on the table and combined with colours in a harmonious way to attract the diners. The third is the collective. All the items are displayed on a tray and enough for many diners. The fourth is the delicacy. Hue people often call each dish a good name and each dish is decorated delicately.  

10. Royal cuisine

In fact, the royal cuisine is also the folk cuisine but is improved and then the royal cuisine influences it again and changes the quality of folk cuisine.

The Royal cuisine is the special dishes prepared for the king. These dishes are delicious and processed meticulously to meet the highest standards that are beautiful, delicious and nutritious. Hue royal dishes are more elaborate and made from the rare ingredients such as bird nest, shark fin, abalone, sea cucumber, mackerel, deer meat, chicken eggs and lotus seeds.

11. Vegetarian dishes

Hue has about 108 Buddhist pagodas. Monks perform a vegetarian diet, but followers are expected to follow a vegetarian diet in 2, 4 or 6 days in a month. The vegetarian processing requires the delicacy to attract the diners. These are the reasons for Hue vegetarian food to develop and preserve so far. Vegetarian dishes are made with ingredients mainly from starch groups such as rice, cassava, potatoes; vegetables; soya beans, peanuts, sesame, and mushrooms, but when processed, they turn into special dishes.

Hue has about 108 Buddhist pagodas. Monks perform a vegetarian diet, but followers are expected to follow a vegetarian diet in 2, 4 or 6 days in a month. The vegetarian processing requires the delicacy to attract the diners. These are the reasons for Hue vegetarian food to develop and preserve so far. Vegetarian dishes are made with ingredients mainly from starch groups such as rice, cassava, potatoes; vegetables; soya beans, peanuts, sesame, and mushrooms, but when processed, they turn into special dishes.

12. Some dishes to try in Hue

  • Baby basket clams rice and other dishes from baby clams

Lying deep in the river, hidden in the muddy sand of nature, the baby clam is a popular dish of Vietnamese people. It can be made into many different dishes and the most special one is the baby basket clams rice. The baby clams are available in many regions, but the best one is in Hue. A baby basket clams rice bowl of Hue is the combination of white aromatic cooked rice, stir-fried baby clams, eye-catching fresh vegetables and the strong taste of Nem sauce.

Besides, other dishes from baby clams like mussel rice noodle, soup or cake in Hue are also tourists favorite. Each dish has its own taste, but the taste of mussel remains on the tongue and it is unforgettable.

It is not wrong to say that Hue beef rice noodle soup is the soul of Hue cuisine because this dish is well-known all over the country. Referring to Hue beef noodle soup, it is necessary to mention the broth from the bones for sweetness and flavor, not too intense but enough for customers to feel the special flavor of this dish. Each bowl is the harmonious combination of many ingredients such as a piece of pig knuckle, a slice of thin ​​beef, pork pie and green onions.

Hue beef noodle soup with all kinds of vegetables and a little Ruoc sauce to make the taste of this dish stronger.

  • Hue cakes

If the tourists have the opportunity to visit Hue and wander the streets in the evening, it is a good chance to enjoy many delicious street foods of Hue. Hue people prefer the dishes made from rice and this is also considered the culinary feature of the ancient capital.

  • Com Am Phu – a strange but very delicious dish

The name of this dish is enough to make people startle, but with Hue people, it is very familiar. This is a very popular dish in Hue, which is sold everywhere in the city. A beautifully decorated seven-color plate represents the first seven steps of the Buddha: White rice is placed in the middle, surrounded by all kinds of food, which is typical with bacon, pork pie, shrimps, grilled spring rolls, cucumbers, fried eggs. Guests can change ingredients according to the preferences.

  • Nhat Le sticky rice cake

Nhat Le sticky rice cakes are famous throughout the ancient capital, wrapped tightly in green banana leaves. After cooked, the cakes have a good smelling, making people want to eat immediately. The sticky rice cake in Hue is the wonderful combination of the sticky rice outside and the pork and green bean inside. If you try Nhat Le sticky rice cake once, you may hardly forget the special taste of this dish.

  • Hue sweet soup

If Hanoi makes people remember by '36 streets', Hue also makes the tourists impressed by 36 types of sweet soup. Nobody remembers when Hue sweet soup appeared but the simple and familiar sweet soup eateries in the small alleys have brought the delicacy of Hue cuisine for a long time.

Each type of Hue sweet soup has its own flavor from the simple taro, bean, corn to lotus seed and “luxurious” grapefruit sweet soup. Guests can enjoy each type separately to feel the taste of each one or mix them together to create a strange feeling when chewing different seeds in the mouth.

III. Tradition

1. People and tradition

Under the Influence of Confucian thought, the concept of "Three Obediences and Four Virtues" is a standard of the ancient Hue woman. Pre-eminent teenage girls must be taught four virtues (wifely virtue, wifely speech, wifely manner/appearance and wifely work) by the mother. Even if the girls were born in the rich family, they still had to go to the market and cook every day.

2. Traditional villages in Hue

Hue has many traditional villages creating the unique features for Hue. Here are some famous traditional villages in the ancient capital.

3. Tay Ho conical hat village

Located near Nhu Y River, Tay Ho village has been famous for making the traditional conical hat – the soul beauty of Hue.

Up to now, no one in the village remembers when the job of making a conical hat appeared in here, but through many ups and downs of history, they rely on this work to make a living.

Tay Ho conical hats are the jewelry that charms the beauty of young women and are the effective sunblock of many people. The villagers going to the market or working in the field cannot miss it. The conical hat is attached to the life of farmers in Tay Ho naturally despite many changes in life.

5. Thanh Tien Paper Flower Village

Thanh Tien village belongs to Mau Tai, Phu Vang district, now in Phu Mau commune, Phu Vang district, Thua Thien Hue province. Thanh Tien village is located in a special position on the south bank of Perfume River. According to the elderly people in Phu Mau, making paper flowers appeared about 150 years ago.

Today, paper flowers are not only for worship but also displayed in festivals such as Hue Festival, Minh Hanh’s Long Dress and displayed in the Citadel of Hue, in Memorial of Nguyen Chi Dieu (Thanh Tien, Phu Mau, Phu Vang, Hue city).

6. Bronze casting village

It is located on the south bank of Perfume River, from Gia Vien Bridge to Long Tho, about 3km from Hue City to the southwest. Bronze casting is one of the traditional and famous handicrafts in Vietnam.​​​​

In Nguyen Dynasty, workers coming from many places worked in a royal workshop in Truong Dong including 5 villages: Truong Dong, Kinh Nhon, Bon Bo, Giang Dinh and Giang Tien, but Kinh Nhon and Bon Bo were the two largest and most famous bronze casting villages.

It is located on the south bank of Perfume River, from Gia Vien Bridge to Long Tho, about 3km from Hue City to the southwest. Bronze casting is one of the traditional and famous handicrafts in Vietnam.
In Nguyen Dynasty, workers coming from many places worked in a royal workshop in Truong Dong including 5 villages: Truong Dong, Kinh Nhon, Bon Bo, Giang Dinh and Giang Tien, but Kinh Nhon and Bon Bo were the two largest and most famous bronze casting villages.

7. Sinh Painting village

Sinh village is located in Phu Mau commune, Phu Vang district. The painting of Sinh village is mainly for the worship of the local people in the area.

Sinh village is opposite to Thanh Ha River - a famous river port in Dang Trong, also known as Pho Lo, and later Bao Vinh town - a crowded business center adjacent to Hue city. It is also a cultural center: Sung Hoa Pagoda in the village was once one of the largest pagodas in the ancient Hoa Chau area.

The Paintings in Sinh village can be classified into three categories:

  • The character painting draws a brilliant woman with two young women standing on either side. This painting is placed on the altar all year round. The paintings of other characters will be burned after making offerings.
  • The object painting draws clothes, money, and utensils to burn to the dead.
  • The animal painting draws the cattle, elephants, tigers and 12 animal designations to burn to the dead. The paintings of the village can be compared with the paintings of famous villages in the North such as Dong Ho, Kim Hoang, and Hang Trong.

8. Phuoc Tich ancient pottery village

Phuoc Tich ancient pottery village (Phong Dien commune, Phong Dien district, Thua Thien Hue province) is located near O Lau River. The village has a history of nearly 500 years, founded in the 15th century by King Le Thanh Tong (1460-1497). At the beginning, the village was named Dong Quyet, then in Nguyen dynasty (1802-1945) changed to Phuoc Tich.

Each house in Phuoc Tich is associated with the history of a family, and each family also kept some wood or pottery antique furniture from centuries ago. On Phuoc Tich, visitors can see the ancient pottery things and hear the story of the ancient pottery village with the 500-year-old history. Phuoc Tich pottery is made of clay mixed with mud and has a dark brown color.

Many products from hundreds of years present in all Hue families in the form of containers (Lu or Chum) or cooking utensils (clay pots), or household utensils (vases and plates). Phuoc Tich has all elements of the heritage village.

Phuoc Tich pottery is present as a traditional village with rituals - ancestral ceremonies held on November 5th on the lunar calendar in Doi temple.

9. Thuan Loc embroidery village

Compared to many other villages in Thua Thien Hue with hundreds of years of age, Thuan Loc embroidery village is probably just a new one because the village was officially born about 30 years ago. 

Thuan Loc embroidery products with delicate lacquer and sensitivity to beauty create birds, animals, leaves… as the beautiful paintings. Each embroidery sheet is a fine artwork carrying the breath of life so that the users feel respect for the product and love the nation.

10. Ke Mon Jewelry village

About 40km from the center of Hue city to the northeast is Ke Mon village in Dien Mon commune, Phong Dien district. This place is famous for jewelry.

The jewelry village of Ke Mon was founded around the 18th century. The founder is Mr. Cao Dinh Do and his son, Mr. Cao Dinh Huong. They are great contributors to the development of the jewelry industry with precious metals in the capital and Dang Trong. It is a traditional jewelry craft, decorated with gold or silver.

As an important heritage of the national, Hue is a unique cultural phenomenon of Vietnam in particular and of the world in general. Hue - Vietnam’s pride will be forever preserved for Vietnam and for the world.

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