Hue was planned to represent both the Yang world (the Citadel – home to the living) in the East and the Yin underworld (cemeteries for the departed) in the West. The tranquil Perfume River served to connect these distant worlds. During the 150 years that Hue served as the capital of the Nguyen dynasty, the Perfume River was coined the “Royal path” or the “Path of returns” because upon their death, all Nguyen monarchs were carried by boat along the Perfume River to their eternal resting place.
Nowadays Hue still boasts seven major mausoleums of Nguyen dynasty kings and queens, dozens of graveyards of Nguyen Lords and their consorts and hundreds of grandiose tombs of mandarins and aristocrats. The majority are scattered in the city’s hilly western and southwestern regions. The mausoleums of kings draw many visitors thanks to their grand scale and their exceptional historical, architectural, philosophical and artistic values.
Gia Long’s Mausoleum (Thiên Thọ Lăng) was constructed between 1814 and 1820 and was the first mausoleum of the Nguyen dynasty. The mausoleum’s grounds cover 2,875ha located at the fountainhead of the Perfume River, about 16km from Hue City. The mausoleum is encircled by 42 hills of various sizes, making the landscape mighty and overwhelming. Nearby lie six other tombs of the king’s family, including those of the preceding Nguyen Lords, the Empress Dowager, the Empress and princesses. Perhaps King Gia Long planned the entire area as a collective mausoleum of the Nguyen clan, but successive kings ignored this wish.
Minh Mang’s Mausoleum (Hiếu Lăng) was built between 1840 and 1843 on Hieu Son Mount near the convergent point of the Right and Left creeks, which create the main stream of the Perfume River. The mausoleum rests alone by the 475m Kim Phung Mount, the chief hill of Hue. The grounds cover nearly 500ha, in which the inner area is 15ha. The layout is famous for its solemn asymmetric beauty.
Thieu Tri’s Mausoleum (Xương Lăng) was built between 1847 and 1848 on Thuan Dao Mount, facing the Perfume River and encircled by neighbouring royal graves. Hon Chen Temple lies on the opposite bank. The
mausoleum has no inner walls and covers a total area of about 400ha.
Unlike the three mausoleums mentioned above, Tu Duc’s Mausoleum (Khiêm Lăng) was originally meant to serve as his leisure palace, constructed between 1864 and 1867. It became a mausoleum after the king’s death in 1883. The complex is nestled on Duong Xuan Mount and is surrounded by the graves of other royals. The complex spans over 220ha. Within the inner tomb of King Tu Duc lie the tomb and altar of King Kien Phuc (Bồi Lăng) and the tomb of Empress Le Thien (Khiêm Thọ Lăng). This mausoleum is known for its poetic beauty
Duc Duc’s Mausoleum (An Lăng) was constructed in the late 19th century in a location chosen at random. The scale is modest and the architecture mediocre, yet this mausoleum lies downtown where two other patriotic kings were interred: the son (King Thanh Thai) and the grandson (King Duy Tan), earning it considerable attention from visitors.
Arguably, the royal mausoleums in Hue marked the peak of Vietnam’s traditional burial architecture. Each mausoleum is a masterpiece of architecture, sculpture and decorations, and has great philosophical
value. Their designs rested on nature. It is important to note that most of these magnificent architectural works were devised by the monarchs themselves. King Gia Long and King Minh Mang designed their own mausoleums. King Tu Duc delineated his mausoleum and that of King Thieu Tri. King Khai Dinh directly
planned and supervised the construction of his mausoleum. Thanks to their history and beauty, the mausoleums of Hue remain a source of mystery and wonder.