Bucket List: Visit Vietnam’s Lesser-Known Forbidden City

The ancient walled fortress of the Imperial City in Huế, Vietnam, is a wonder as stunning as its Chinese counterpart

Photos: Shutterstock

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Photo: danielcastromaia / Shutterstock.com

Speak of the Forbidden City and grand images of Beijing’s ancient palaces and citadels often come to mind. Not many know about this other hidden Forbidden City in Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam. At 520ha, the Imperial City remains the most massive structure ever built in the country.

After the last of the Vietnamese Emperors in 1945, the City was almost entirely destroyed in wars; but when the site was declared a UNESCO site in 1993, its remaining buildings have undergone restoration and preservation.

Despite this, the site still sports the scars of time, war and natural wear that exude a humble but strong stoicism. Here, the history and hidden charm of Vietnam come alive.

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Royal rumble

In 1802, Nguyễn Ánh took control of Vietnam and proclaimed himself Emperor Gia Long. He then consulted with geomancers, who determined Huế to be the best location for a new palace and citadel. Building began in 1804.

The outer ring of the Imperial City is an enclosure — called the Citadel — of fortified ramparts 2km wide and 2km high, and is ringed by a moat with water from the Huong River (Perfume River). Inside this Citadel stands the Imperial City, with has a 2.5km-long perimeter wall.

In the very centre of the multiple layers of fortresses here lies the Forbidden Purple City, a compound that was once reserved solely for the emperor, his family and the royal concubines.

Throughout the years, more palaces, gates, courtyards and gardens were subsequently added; at one point, the City held around 160 buildings.

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