Story: Professor Phan Thanh Hai
Photos:Archive, Le Huy Hoang Hai, Ba Ngoc
Discover the rich heritage of Vietnam’s last imperial court
Vietnam’s last imperial capital, Hue, has been honored with five UNESCO World Heritage listings. With so much heritage on display, Hue is a unique place for visitors to learn more about Vietnam’s national identity.
Hue’s five UNESCO Heritage listings are in three different categories: Hue Monumental Complex (1993 – Tangible Heritage), Elegant court music – royal music of Vietnam (2009 – Intangible Heritage); Woodblocks of Nguyen Dynasty (2009 – Documentary Heritage), Royal ordinances of the Nguyen Dynasty (2014 – Documentary Heritage) and Poetry on royal architecture of Hue (2016 – Documentary Heritage). All five of these heritages trace their roots to the Nguyen Dynasty, the last feudal dynastic regime of Vietnam.
The Hue Monumental Complex is a compound of royal buildings, including fortresses, palaces, mausoleums, sacrificial sites, pagodas, urban streets and gardens that reflect an ancient Asian capital at the height of its development. Despite the ravages of warfare, natural disasters and time, this monumental complex remains fairly intact and has been well-preserved thanks to the efforts of the entire Vietnamese community and support from our friends overseas.
Elegant court music, the royal music of Vietnam, is another unique heritage that Hue has worked hard to preserve. In the late 1990s, this art form was in danger of dying out due to a lack of skilled musicians and performing spaces. Thanks to the efforts of those charged with preserving the Hue Former Citadel, the dedication of remaining artists and the support of UNESCO, elegant court music has been revived. This academic and noble performing genre has not only been renewed and performed in its place of origin but is also promoted worldwide. It has been one of Vietnam’s major performing arts during recent Hue Festivals.
As the capital of a dynasty that held education and knowledge in high regard, Hue is home to a treasury of knowledge. According to the late professor Tran Van Giau, compiled and printed publications from the Nguyen Dynasty outnumbered those of all preceding dynasties combined. Woodblocks (woodcuts used to print the dynasties’ publications), Royal ordinances (official dynastic letters reviewed and approved by emperors and signed with vermillion ink) and carved or enamel-coated verses on royal buildings in Hue are all magnificent documentary treasures. Despite the upheavals of history, over 34,600 Nguyen Dynasty woodblocks are stored and preserved in the Storage Center IB in Dalat. Tens of thousands of sheets of royal ordinances are stored in the Storage Center I in Hanoi. Remaining in Hue are the verses carved onto royal buildings.
In recent years, the public and visitors in Hue have been made aware of the value of Nguyen Dynasty royal ordinances and woodblocks through large-scale exhibitions hosted in the Inner Palaces. These events foster a deeper understanding of the diverse and unique cultural treasures that originated in the Hue Former Citadel.