Hue, the forbidden city • Vietnam

Watch this video and don't hesitate to read the commentary on in the imperial city or in the emperor's palace in Hue in Vietnam.

This film was made on the basis of photos and videos taken during the trip Vietnam & Cambodia • 2014

Reading the text below will help you better understand the historical context of the sites shown in this video.

Hue, capital of Vietnam


The history of Vietnam is turbulent and punctuated by numerous conflicts. Among these conflicts, a civil war fueled by two important families, the Trinh and the Nguyen. This war started in the 17th century lasted many years and divided the country for more than a century.

At the end of this conflict, Nguyen Ahn ascended the throne and proclaimed himself emperor under the name of Gia Long. He decided to move the capital from Hanoi to Hue, the historic capital of the Nguyens and ideally located in the center of the empire.


The Forbidden City of Hue


Very influenced by the Chinese power, Gia Long ordered the construction of a forbidden city, on the model of that of Beijing. Work on this imperial city began in 1802, after geomancers decided on the best location. The set was formed by dozens of buildings, temples, palaces, villas for the mandarins and rooms to house the numerous personnel and gardens. The whole was surrounded by fortifications and moats over a distance of more than 10 kilometers.

Access to the imperial city was strictly limited to authorized persons, such as the emperor, his family, his concubines and his court as well as the personnel necessary for the proper functioning of this forbidden city. Any intruder was immediately executed.


Decline of the Imperial City


Half a century after the construction of the forbidden city of Hue, the French colonizers took control of the country and the role of the emperor was limited to representation, the effective power being in the hands of France. This was not without consequence on the imperial city. Since that time, the site has been sorely lacking in maintenance, and unfavorable weather conditions combined with the voracity of termites have rapidly degraded some of the buildings. A few cyclones have also played an important role, all without considering the many destructions that are caused by humans.


20th century wars


As you can imagine, the destruction of human origin is disproportionate to that due to a lack of maintenance. The Vietnamese Communist Party fought for the country's independence in 1941, and the Viet Minh seized the imperial city. The counter-attack led by the French destroyed many buildings in this forbidden city during the siege which lasted 6 weeks.

A new North Vietnamese attack occurred in 1968, known as the Tet Offensive. Viet Cong troops occupied a large part of the city and the Americans heavily bombarded the city to defeat the offensive, despite the principle that prohibited the bombardment of Hue, because of its cultural and religious importance. Following these fights, only a dozen buildings remained standing within the walls of the imperial city, out of the 160 that it still had at the beginning of 1968.


about the place, Hué:

Located near the demarcation line set by the Geneva Accords in 1954 between the two Vietnams (the 17th parallel), Hue is the former imperial capital of Vietnam. Hue is crossed by the Perfume River and its main resources come from fishing, but above all from tourism. The city has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993. 

Capital of the empire, Hué was the imperial residence and one of its highlights is the Forbidden City built during the 19th century. 

The city has a long history of wars and devastation. The Forbidden City was burned and destroyed in 1885 by the French who looted the city and massacred its inhabitants. It also paid a heavy price in the Vietnam War, bombed by the Americans and targeted by the Viet Minh.


Spoken comments in the film: 

The Forbidden City of Hue is inspired by that of Beijing and is much more recent, since it was built at the beginning of the 19th century by Emperor Gia Long. This huge city was essentially reserved for the family of the emperor and his court. Apart from these and the workers essential to its proper functioning, access to this city was strictly prohibited under penalty of death. 

Nowadays, about 10% of the buildings remain. The natural elements and the wars that Vietnam has experienced have destroyed about 90% of this imperial city.



 - YouTube video library - Eastern Thought, (© Eastern Thought by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.




• Disclaimer: As traditional music is often subject to copyright (claimed by major music distribution groups), the musical illustration of this film "Hue, the forbidden city • Vietnam" does not use typical music of Vietnam but is borrowed from a collection of royalty-free music. Despite the painstaking care given to the musical choices in this film, some people may regret this choice, but it is the price to pay for not incurring unnecessary lawsuits. This decision was difficult to take, but it's the only viable solution, unfortunately. •

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