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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Remnants of the past

Of these 160 buildings, only 10 major sites now remain after years of termite and cyclone damage, as well as wars and modern urban development. These include the Thai Hoa, The Mieu and Can Thanh temples; and the Hien Lam pavilion.

As you approach the walls of the City, you can still see the outer walls peppered with bullet holes from wars in the mid-1900s.

Outside the Capital City, several significant monuments also stand, including the Van Mieu (Temple of Literature), the Dan Nam Giao (Esplanade of Sacrifice to the Heaven and Earth), the Ho Quyen (Royal Area), the Den Voi Re (Temple of the Roaring Elephant) and the Chua Thien Mu (Celestial Lady Pagoda).

Upstream of the Huong River, the tombs of the dynasty’s emperors dot the banks.

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