Six royal tombs are scattered across land to the south east of the citadel on the other side of the Perfume River and one on the same side. They are monuments to nine of the thirteen rulers of the Nguyen Dynasty, mostly built during the Emperor’s lifetime. Although designed individually, sometimes by the intended occupant himself, they share certain design conventions.
All were built according to strict rules of geomancy, which often involved making substantial modifications to the landscape to ensure that the sight lines and orientation of the constituent elements complied with celestial and supernatural forces. These were:
- a courtyard with stone effigies of elephants, horses and mandarins
- a pavilion containing a massive stele with eulogies to the departed incumbent
- a temple containing an altar for worshipping the Emperor’s soul
- a pleasure pavilion, and
- the tomb itself
Each Royal Tomb reflects the personality of the ruler.
We were lucky to be shown around by a local from Hue, Lan. I found Lan on couchsurfing and am so glad that I did. Besides being a terrific person and great tour leader, she also shares my love of food and took me to some real local spots for delicious Hue specialties.
The most majestic is that of Emperor Minh Mang, a staunch follower of Confucianism with many wives, concubines and a small army of children. Planned by the Emperor and built shortly after his death, it is opulent and exotic, and laid out in formal Chinese style.
With the possible exception of Khai Dinh’s monument, no other tomb approaches the level of unity of the elements of Minh Mang's tomb. Its layout and symmetry draws the eye naturally towards the main features, and the architectural balance blends the elements into a pleasing whole.