Hue History

By the 15th century, the Vietnamese had successfully captured the city from the Cham and renamed it Phu Xuan. In 1558 the city became the capital of a region ruled by Lord Nguyen Hoang, which established control of South Vietnam by the Nguyen lords. During this time, two warring factions—the Nguyen lords, who controlled South Vietnam, and the Trinh lords, who controlled North Vietnam—were fighting for control of the whole country.

Hue becomes the capital

With the Tay Son Rebellion in the 18th century, the Nguyen lords were temporarily defeated. Led by the sons of a wealthy merchant, the Tay Son rebels were acting on a general sentiment of discontent with both Nguyen and Trinh rule. The Tay Son dynasty founded by Emperor Quang Trung was installed in Hue from 1788 to 1802, until the ousted Lord Nguyen Anh returned with French backing. At the same time, Nguyen Anh captured Hanoi from the Tay Son rebels, who had defeated the Trinh and the Chinese-backed Ly dynasty based in the northern capital. In 1802, Nguyen Anh anointed himself Emperor Gia Long and made Hue the capital of a newly united Vietnam.

Establishing an architectural identity

Twelve Nguyen-dynasty emperors followed him to the throne until 1945, and their impressive tombs, Imperial City, and pagodas are reminders of the important role the city once played.

It was under Emperor Gia Long's rule that the city's architectural identity was established, and the prospect of French-colonial rule in Vietnam initiated. With guidance, ironically, from the French architect Olivier de Puymanel, Gia Long designed and built the city's surrounding fortress in the style of the Forbidden City in Beijing. The result is a fairly modern structure that looks centuries old. Enclosed within the thick walls of the Chinese-style citadel is the Imperial City (Hoang Thanh), where all matters of state took place and which was off-limits to all but mandarins and the royal family. Within the Imperial City was the Forbidden Purple City (Tu Cam Thanh), where the emperor and his family lived; very little of it remains today.

In 1885, after repeated disagreements between the French and the emperors of Hue, the French pillaged the Royal Court, burned the Royal Library, and replaced Emperor Ham Nghi with the more docile Emperor Dong Khanh.

Modern destruction

It was the Tet Offensive of 1968, however, that really destroyed large parts of the Imperial City. During one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese army occupied the city for 25 days, flying its flag in defiance and massacring thousands of supposed South Vietnamese sympathizers. The South Vietnamese and the Americans moved in to recapture the city with a massive land and air attack and in doing so further destroyed many of Hue's architectural landmarks. Overall, more than 10,000 people died in the fighting, many of them civilians.

Published 06/19/2018

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