Monday, 21 March 2011

VIETNAM 13-19 March 2011 / The Royal Mausoleums of Hue

The city of Hue was the capital of Vietnam during the reign of the Nguyen Dynasty that lasted from 1802 to 1945. Like many royal families in history, the thirteen emperors had their individual strengths and weaknesses, and their penchant was in building monuments, specifically mausoleums for posterity. We visited three of the most spectacular royal mausoleums in our recent trip to Hue. Emperor Tu Duc (reigned 1847-1883) was known for his retiring personality, one who favoured poetry and the arts to the actual governance of his kingdom. As he saw strife and turmoil rip his land apart, he planned his own mausoleum as a lyrical reflection of his effete personality. Scenic lakes and beautiful pavilions (above) and intimate courtyards (below) distinguish his serene and poetic final resting place.

The imposing stele house (below) has a long and critical essay, a rambling look at his frailties, as if an apology to his general abjectness. The tomb itself is unspectacular but its surroundings an ultimately peaceful tribute.

By complete contrast, Emperor Khai Dinh (1916-1925), the twelfth monarch built himself a compact but imposing mausoleum (below) of solid concrete and porcelain. The edifice is eclectic in the extreme, combining Vietnamese, European and Chinese characteristics, built on seven terraces and perched on a woody hillside. Walking up its multiple steps gives the impression of ascending into some twisted version of paradise.

All the mausoleums have a salutation court (below) filled with statues of soldiers, courtiers and beasts of war, and Khai Dinh's is no different. However its sense of feng shui is close to perfection.

A gold plated statue of Khai Dinh, a gift from the French, sits placidly above his actual tomb. For all intents and purposes, Khai Dinh appears to be a vain monarch given to extreme opulence.

Our personal favourite is the formal but lush mausoleum of Minh Mang (1820-1841), the mighty second emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty. Built close to the Perfume River, its combination of wood, lakes and modest constructions strikes a most harmonious balance. Viewed from the sky, his name in Chinese is spelt eloquently in the gardens itself.

This gate was opened only once in its existence, that is when Emperor Minh Mang's body was transported through its doors to his final resting place.

The gate leading into the central Sung An shrine.

A perfect view of the Minh pavilion.

It was a cold and wet morning,
which added to its mystique
of Minh Mang's mausoleum.

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