I spent the morning at the Purple Forbidden City and Citadel in Huế. I didn’t know what to expect as my knowledge of Vietnam’s history, at least before the 1960s, is shamefully inadequate. The area is across the Perfume River from my hotel and I got an early start, beating the tour buses.
It feels trite but words can’t do it justice. The area is immense, surrounded by wide moats and high walls. Inside are a mix of beautiful buildings and stunning ruins. There are broad tree-lined boulevards, stone and brick walls over 20 feet high, waterways, huge open spaces and brick walkways. The buildings are a mix of stone, finely crafted wood, plaster-covered brick and glazed ceramics. I stayed the whole morning and didn’t take it all in. The plantings are not meticulously maintained; in its prime it would take hundreds of full-time gardeners to keep it pristine. I took well over a hundred pictures and videos, and will try to post some here.
The limited narrative plaques make it clear that the Forbidden City suffered along with the rest of the Country during the French colonial period, The Second World War under the Japanese, and during the American misadventure, when the site was seized by communist forces during the 1968 Tet Offensive and a long battle to recover it ensued. It appears to be in a process of slow restoration and preservation with functioning brick making and carpentry shops situated behind some the walls.
Just outside the palace grounds, an island in the middle of broad brick approaches, is a squat pyramidal structure with a gigantic Vietnamese flag at its top, a modern addition I assume. It is closed to the public. I haven’t been able to figure out what is is, but thought initially it must be the Citadel, the Emperor’s safe house. I am now certain that that is incorrect and in fact think it must have been built by the French. Its exterior walls are blackened with age and it has a threatening appearance. There certainly would be no sneaking up on it by opposing armies and it would have been a very tough nut to crack.