Photo Gallery

Imperial City (c. 1804 onward, badly damaged 1968)

The Imperial City at Hue is the best-preserved remnant of a vast citidel and royal quarters that once existed on the site. To put the ruins into context, it is important to consider how they were originally used.

In the early 19th century the Emperor Gia Long consulted geomancers to find the best place to build a new palace and citadel. The geomancers chose the present site at Hue. The Emperor wished to recreate, in abbreviated form, a replica of the Forbidden City in Beijing. At his command, tens of thousands of laborers were conscripted to dig a ten kilometer moat and earthen walls to form the outer perimeter of the citidel. Later, the earthen walls were replaced by two-meter-thick stone walls built in the style of the French military architect Vauban. Due to the topography, the citadel faced east toward the Perfume river (unlike the Forbidden City in Beijing, which faced due south). The Emperor decided to locate his own palace within the walls of the citadel along the east side nearest the river. A second, smaller set of walls and moat defined the area of the "Purple Forbidden City," where the Emperor built a network of palaces, gates, and courtyards that served as his home and the administrative core of the Empire.

By the time the last Emperor of Vietnam stepped down in the mid 20th century, the Purple Forbidden City had acquired many dozens of pavilions and hundreds of rooms. Although improperly maintained (the city suffered from frequent termite and typhoon damage) it nevertheless remained an imposing spectacle. All of that changed in 1968, when American military forces in Vietnam, reacting to the communist takeover of Hue, ordered the city retaken. American bombs blasted the majority of the city into rubble, sparing only a handful of buildings.

Nowadays the city has been declared a UNESCO site and the remaining buildings have been lovingly restored. But, much of the site was so badly damaged that it has been given over to vast rice fields that cover most of the Purple Forbidden City. Even so, the remaining buildings are sufficient to give the visitor a sense of how the Vietnamese interpreted Chinese imperial architecture and adapted it to their culture.

Site Plan:

Image drawn by Timothy M Ciccone.
Plan of Hue

City Plan:

Plan of the Imperial City before the Tet Offensive of 1968. Area of the Purple Forbidden City outlined in purple.

Image adapted and colorized from the original in Hu�, la Cit� Interdite, by Philippe Lafond. Plan of the Imperial City


The approximate center of the citadel is at 16.469780' N, 107.577510' E (WGS 84 map datum).


All images copyright 2003 Professor Yunsheng Huang of the University of Virginia.

Bezacier, L. Relev�s de Monuments Anciens Du Nord Viet-Nam
  Ecole Francaise D'extreme Orient, 1958. Paris

Buckley, Michael. Moon Travel Guides: Vietnam Cambodia and Laos Handbook, 2nd Edition
  Moon Publications, Inc., 1997. China

Cohen, Barbara. The Vietnam Guidebook
  Harper and Row Publishers, Inc., 1990. New York

Florence, Mason & Storey, Robert. Lonely Planet: Vietnam
  Lonely Planet Publications, 1999. Melbourne

Nguyen, Ba Dang. Traditional Vietnamese Architecture
  Gioi Publishers, 2004. Hanoi

Phan Huy L�. Ki�'n tr�c ph�' c� H�i An Vi�t Nam
  Th� Gi�i, 2003. Hanoi

West, Helen. Insight Guides: Vietnam
  APA Publications (HK) Ltd., 1991. Sinapore

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steven kramer posted on Tue Dec 09, 2014 2:26 pm:

I was in the first cav when perhaps a week before tet we moved up from Bong Son to reinforce marines. Hue was off limits to marines but we were army so what tyhe hell. 5 or 6 of us hopped in a truck and tuned into tourists. The place was hopping. We all had our M16 with maybe 40 rounds. Toured the citedel, and the area east and west of town along the river. Got some really weird looks from young men at several locations to the point where we all commented. Sypped by the MacV headquarters for a cold one and really had a nice day. My estimate is that it was the last week of january 68. No body ever mentions the cannons? What a waste!!!

Timothy Ciccone, Editor replied on Tue Dec 09, 2014 2:32 pm: 
Thanks for sharing. If you happened to take photos while you were there, it would be wonderful if you could share them, as not many survive from that era. Feel free to email me at
Richard Rees posted on Sun Nov 09, 2014 3:03 am:

I was one of the first Marines in Hue, we were told it was a ***** run. Three Purple Hearts there and I understood the meaning of fight for ones country. Sepmer Fi, I damn near died.

Gillian posted on Sat Aug 23, 2014 8:52 am:

Impressive city really enjoyed the visits loved reading this story

Jaroslav Kukla posted on Sat Jul 26, 2014 1:16 pm:

Of course,in our DUAL and BIPOLAR world many ancient monuments are done twice/double,like the pyramids of Gizeh and Teotihuacan,as Global Clock...China has many underround memorials,symbolizing rebirh and resurrection from the East...See Changling(female) and Dingling(male) monuments between the Tiger and Dragon Hills of East and West...The famous Valley of Emperors and Empresses,similar to that of Egypt...The Belt of Oriona(male)-stargate is also known as Min and Tav...And the name of Viet Nam is associated with it,as Man Tav,since East of Gizeh,all languages read from right to the left,and West of Gizeh,left to the right...Hence,I'm not suprised to se another Forbidden,Purple city in Hue,Viet Nam...

RS posted on Fri Jun 28, 2013 6:58 pm:

Your description states:

Mr.A posted on Mon May 06, 2013 7:22 am:

To answer your question "Has the US apologized and compensated the families of all the victims of the bombings it has carried out in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, in Indochina (NOT JUST Vietnam, and yes the US also bombed Cambodia and Laos as well!) as well as God knows elsewhere in the world". The answer is a bit complicated. Yes, the US has apologized, and Yes, they are attempting to compensate not only the families, but also the nations. The fact is thought, NOT EVERYONE WILL BE HAPPY, and there will be always someone who brings up the past. Just like when someone does you wrong, and Sais "Im sorry" you will never forgive them. But what you failed to mention is how a phoenix flies from the ashes of the US's mistakes. In Japan, the demonstration of power not only stopped the war, but has prevented a mass nuclear war since. In Vietnam, it caused the Vietcong to slow down their pace in taking over the whole country. In Indochina the US has not only brought down suffering through oppression, but has also allowed and implemented the idea of a new governing system. And on top of all of that, the US is constantly undergoing projects to allow for the reconstruction of all cavitations they have ever been in conflict with. So, while we can never take away the past of what the US has done, we can at least acknowledge the fact that the US is constantly trying to right their wrongs when they could easily leave and let the people of those unfortunate countries fen for themselves.

Mr. A posted on Mon May 06, 2013 7:21 am:

@ HS...

david posted on Fri Nov 23, 2012 10:33 pm:

Prof. Todd from China will have beautiful photos on his site

HS posted on Sun Nov 18, 2012 8:01 am:

The US claims to be the "leader of the free world" and to fight for freedom, democracy, peace and justice throughout the world. Has the US apologized and compensated the families of all the victims of the bombings it has carried out in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, in Indochina (NOT JUST vietnam, and yes the US also bombed Cambodia and Laos as well!) as well as God knows elsewhere in the world. With great power comes great responsibility. As the most powerful country in the world the US should help protect the rest of the world not completely destroy it! Starting with WWII or maybe even earlier the US has seriously abused its power, including military power. What the US did in Japan,Indochina iand probably elewhere s not something that a nation that claims to defend democracy, human rights, peace and justice would do. The United States should be most ashamed of itself. Leader of the free world my ass!

Tom posted on Fri Oct 19, 2012 7:07 pm:

The city was badly dammaged in the 1968 Tet offensive but the forbidden city was mostly burned down by the communists in 1945

Mary Norton posted on Tue Sep 20, 2011 4:36 am:

I have been to Hue and was really impressed with its monuments.

Vin posted on Tue Aug 30, 2011 5:37 am:

Although it is right to say Gia Long copied the Forbidden Palace, it is not right to say that it was Chinese influence. These types of architectures have been in Vietnam for over 5000 years. The housings of most ancient Chinese buildings got its influence from Vietnam when the Chinese occupied the land for 1000 years. The Dong Son drums dating back to more than 2879 BC depict housings that are very authentic Vietnamese not Chinese. Not only that but the chief architect of the Beijing Forbidden Palace was Nguyen An, a Vietnamese man whom got the idea from ancient Vietnamese architecture.

david javid posted on Tue Jan 11, 2011 11:08 pm:

I am researching the royal chairs that were inside of this location in HUE. the royal chair with golden dragons, it is believed to be Qianlongs of the Qing Dynasty of China according to museum person in the USA, however I am attempting to find out if it may have been from your forbidden city, seeing how it resembled the Beijing forbidden City. Please have a look at the royal chair at the photograhers site

khamphy posted on Tue Aug 10, 2010 10:08 pm:

i want to have the Data of the Imperial City at Hue is