Complex of Hue Monuments lies along the Perfume River in Hue City and some adjacent areas of Thua Thien Hue Province. Hue City constitutes the cultural, political and economic centre of the province, and was the old imperial city of Vietnam under the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 to 1945.
Since 1306, after the wedding of the princess Huyen Tran of the Tran Dynasty with Che Man, the Cham King, the territories of Chau O and Chau Ly (comprised of Quang Tri, Thua Thien - Hue and part of Northern Quang Nam today) took the name of Thuan Hoa. In the second half of the 15th century, under the reign of King Le Thanh Tong, the name of "Hue" appeared for the first time. In 1636, the residence of the Nguyen Lords was settled at Kim Long (Hue). In 1687, it was transferred to Phu Xuan – where is the Citadel today. Early in the 18th century, Phu Xuan became the political, economic and cultural centre of the southern part of Vietnam. Then, from 1788 to 1801, it became the capital of the Tay Son Dynasty.
From 1802 to 1945, Hue was the capital of unified Vietnam under the reign of the 13 Nguyen Kings. During these years, architectural works of a high cultural and historic value were built: the Citadel, especially the Imperial City (including 253 constructions), 7 Royal tomb compound of 9 kings of the Nguyen Dynasty, the Esplanade of Nam Giao, the Ho Quyen arena and the Hon Chen Temple.
Located in the centre of Hue, along the Perfume (Huong) River’s northern bank, the complex of royal architecture represents and demonstrates the power of the Nguyen Dynasty's centralism. Contained in this complex are Kinh Thanh Hue (the Hue Capital Citadel), Hoang Thanh (the Royal Citadel or Imperial City) and Tu Cam Thanh (the Forbidden Citadel) clustered together, symmetrically placed along the longitudinal axis and facing to the south.
The system of walls combines sophisticatedly both eastern and western architectural styles placed in natural harmony with Ngu Binh Mount, Perfume River, Gia Vien and Boc Thanh islets. Even people implicitly consider these natural landscapes as a part of the complex.
Surrounded by a square wall, almost 600 metres in length on each side, the Imperial City has four gates, of which the south gate (Ngo Mon) is most typical in construction and is widely seen and recognized as the symbol of Hue Citadel. It served not only as the main entrance but was also the place where important events of the dynasty took place. Within the area of the Imperial City, the Forbidden Citadel was the area reserved for daily activities of the royal family.
The main north-south axis, called Than dao (miraculous road), runs through the three walls of the Hue Capital Citadel, Imperial City and Forbidden Citadel and was marked with the important constructions of Hue Citadel. Hundred of small and large buildings were built symmetrically along this axis in harmony with their natural surroundings gives one a feeling of gentle and serenity. These buildings include Nghinh Luong Pavilion (Pavilion for Fresh Air), Phu Van Lau (or the Pavilion of Edicts was the building where Emperor's edicts and lists of successful candidates of Thi Hoi (National Examination) and Thi Dinh (Court Examinations) were publicised), Ky Dai (Flag Tower), Ngo Mon Gate (the main entrance), Thai Hoa Palace (The Throne Palace, or Palace of the Supreme Harmony, was the building for great court's meetings), Can Chanh Palace (the place for every day working of Emperors), Can Thanh Palace (Emperor's Private Palace), Khon Thai Residence (Queen's Private Apartment), Kien Trung Pavilion (the place for daily activities of Emperors)...
In the distance, to the west of the Capital Citadel, along the Perfume River, are the famous royal tombs and temples, masterpieces in landscape architecture built by the Nguyen Dynasty. Each royal tomb aimed at creating a living place for royal pleasure before becoming an eternal resting place after the king’s death. This resulted in the architecture of royal tombs in Hue being distinguished by unique characteristics.
Each tomb reflects its owner’s life and character: the magnificence of Gia Long’s tomb in the immense landscape of mountains and jungles represents the spirit of a general in war; the symmetry and majesty of Minh Mang’s tomb combiners both man-made and natural mountains and lakes and reveals the powerful will and solemn nature of a talented politician who was also an orderly poet; the peaceful and sombre qualities of Thieu Tri’s tomb reflects the innermost feelings of an outstanding poet who made few achievements in political life; the romance and poetic atmosphere of Tu Duc’s tomb evoke the elegant and subtle tendency of a poet rather than the strong characteristic of a politician.
In addition, place-names that embellish for the beauty of the Complex of Hue Monuments can be named as: Huong River, Ngu Binh Mountain, Thien Mu Pagoda, Bach Ma Mountain, the Thuan An and Lang Co Beaches...
At the meeting of the 17th session of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) in Columbia, from the 6th to the 11th of December 1993, UNESCO has come to the decision of recognising the architectural ensemble of Hue as a world cultural heritage. This was a noteworthy event in the cultural history. For the reason that Hue is the first site in Vietnam ever listed in the World Heritage list.
As to the cultural value, a World Cultural Heritage Site, like the Complex of Hue Monuments, has to:
- Be representative of an original artistic achievement, a masterpiece created by Man’s hands;
- Have a great value for its building technique or its architecture in a general development plan for a city or in a program for the embellishment of the sight of a world cultural zone;
- Be representative of an architectural ensemble of an important historical period; Be closely related to important events, to ideas or beliefs having a great influence or to famous historical personalities.
In the closing report of the above-mentioned meeting, the WHC has briefly assessed the value of Hue as follows:
"The architecture of Hue, which has been the Capital of a unified Vietnam, built at about the beginning of the 19th century, combines the oriental philosophy with the traditions of Vietnam. Intimately mingled with the natural environment, the beauty and special richness of the architecture and decorative art of the building are an original image of the Vietnamese monarchy at its most prosperous period".