Our next stop, after our cave trek, was Hue, farther south. In another post I will share about the sights we saw along the way that pertained to the Vietnam War. The main sight to see in Hue is the Imperial Citadel of the Nguyễn Dynasty, the rulers of Vietnam during the 1800s before French colonial rule.
The citadel truly was a marvel – I could not believe the intricacies, beauty and scale of the imperial city. Around each corner was a shrine, temple or palace that took my breath away. To add to the mysteries of the citadel, much of it was blocked off and still in process of repairs or excavation. The pathways and walls were covered in lichen, but the bright paint still came through.
We ventured through the citadel in a clockwise motion, starting from the Five Phoenix watch tower that faces the river. Hien Lam Pavilion was particularly beautiful, with its large dynastic urns to honor the Nguyễn kings.
Some of my favorite parts were the reliefs, usually encircling a gate. Sometimes, these reliefs were bold and bright, dragons, birds and bats of rough strokes of material that exploded from the wall; other times, the reliefs were delicate and pale, displaying the serenity of a tree or a crane. I imagine these correspond to the places within the citadel that the gates open on to.
As we continued, we took a coffee break in a little covered courtyard surrounded on three sides by a turtle and koi pond, to journal and plan the rest of our visit. After this, we encountered the main square of the citadel, massive and empty with a stunning colonnade running around the edge – the buildings that once stood here were destroyed both by the elements, but mainly by the French during bombing campaigns in the late 1940s. Thankfully, several still stood on the periphery, such as Minh Tanh Palace and the royal theater and library. We finished our tour of the citadel through the gardens.
All in all, the citadel was just stunning and, in many ways, overwhelming. I could have spent many more hours here.