FAMOUS VIETNAMESE EMPERORS
Tomb of Tu Duc
The majestic and serene tomb of Emperor Tu Duc is set amidst frangipani trees and a grove
of pines. Tu Duc designed the exquisitely harmonious tomb, which was constructed
between 1864 and 1867, for use both before and after his death. The enormous expense
of the tomb and the forced labour used in its construction spawned a coup plot which was
discovered and suppressed in 1866.
It is said that Tu Duc, who ruled from
1848 to 1883 (the longest reign of any Nguyen monarch), lived a life of truly imperial
luxury: at every meal, 50 chefs prepared 50 dishes served by 50 servants; and his tea was
made of drops of dew that had condensed overnight on the leaves of lotus plants.
Though Tu Duc had 104 wives and countless concubines, he had no offspring. One
theory has it that he became sterile after contracting smallpox.
Tu Duc's Tomb, which is surrounded by a
solid octagonal wall is entered from the east via Vu Khien Gate. A path paved with
bat trang tiles leads to Du Khiem Boat Landing, which is on the shore of Luu Khiem Lake.
From the boat landing, Tinh Khiem Island, where Tu Duc used to hunt small game, is
off to the right. Across the water to the left is Xung Khiem Pavilion, where the
Emperor would sit among the columns with his concubines composing or reciting poetry.
The pavilion, built over the water on piles, was restored in 1986.
Across Khiem Cung Courtyard from Du
Khiem Boat Landing are steps leading through a gate to Hoa Khiem Temple, where Emperor Tu
Duc and Empress Hoang Le Thien Anh are worshipped. Before his death, Tu Duc used Hoa
Khiem Temple as a palace, staying here during his long visits to the complex. Hoa
Khiem Temple contains a number of interesting items, including a mirror used by the
Emperor's concubines; a clock and other objects given to Tu Duc by the French; the Emperor
and Empress's funerary tablets; and two thrones, the larger of which was for the Empress
(Tu Duc was only 153 cm tall).
Minh Khiem Chamber, to the right behind
Hoa Khiem Temple, was built for use as a theatre. Tu Duc's mother, the Queen Mother
Tu Duc, is worshipped in Luong Khiem Temple, which is directly behind Hoa Khiem Temple.
Back down at the bottom of the stairway,
the brick path continues along the shore of the pond to the Honour Courtyard. Across
the lake from the Honour Courtyard are the tombs of Tu Duc's adopted son, Emperor Kien
Phuc, who ruled for only seven months in 1883, and the Empress Le Thien Anh, Tu Duc's
After walking between the honour guard
of elephants, horses and diminutive civil and military mandarins (the stone mandarins were
made even shorter than the emperor), you reach the masonry Stele Pavilion, which shelters
a massive stone tablet weighing about 20 tonnes. It took four years to transport the
stele, the largest in Vietnam, from the area of Thanh Hoa, 500 km to the north. Tu
Duc drafted the inscriptions on the stele himself in order to clarify certain aspects of
his reign. He freely admitted that he had made mistakes and chose to name his tomb
Khiem, which means modest. The two nearby towers symbolize the Emperor's power.
Tu Duc's sepulchre, enclosed by a wall,
is on the other side of a half-moon-shaped lake. In fact, Tu Duc was never actually
interred here, and the site where his remains wre buried along with great treasure is not
known. Because of the danger of grave robbers, extreme measures were taken to keep
the location secret: every one of the 200 servants who buried the king were beheaded.
Tu Duc's tomb is seven km from Hue on
Van Nien hill in Duong Xuan Thuong village.
Tomb of Khai Dinh
The gaudy and crumbling tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh, who ruled from 1916 to 1925, is perhaps
symptomatic of the decline of Vietnamese culture during the colonial period. Begun
in 1920 and completed in 1931, the grandiose reinforced concrete structure makes no
pretence of trying to blend in with the surrounding countryside. The architecture,
completely unlike that of Hue's other tombs, is an unfortunate synthesis of Vietnamese and
European elements. Even the stone faces of the mandarin honour guards are endowed
with a mixture of Vietnamese and European features.
After climbing 36 steps between four
dragon banisters, you get to the first courtyard, flanked by two pavilions. The
Honour Courtyard, with its rows of elephants, horses, and civil and military
mandarins, is 26 steps further up the hillside. In the centre of the Honour
Courtyard is an octagonal Stele Pavilion.
Up three more flights of stairs is the
main building, Thien Dinh, which is divided into three halls. The walls and ceiling
are decorated with murals of the "Four Seasons", the "Eight Precious
Objects", the "Eight Fairies" and other designs made out of colourful bits
of broken porcelain and glass embedded in cement. Under a graceless one-tonne
concrete canopy is a gilt bronze statue of Khai Dinh in royal regalia. Behind the
statue is the symbol of the sun. The Emperor's remains are interred 18 metres below
the statue. Khai Dinh is worshipped in the last hall.
The tomb of Khai Dinh is 10 km from Hue
in Chau Chu Village.
Tomb of Dong Khanh
Emperor Dong Khanh, nephew and adopted son of Tu Duc, was placed on the throne by the
French after they captured his predecessor, Ham Nghi (who fled after the French's sacking
of the royal palace in 1885), and exiled him to Algeria. Predictably, Dong Khanh
proved docile; he ruled from 1886 until his death two years later. Dong Khanh's
mausoleum, the smallest of the Royal Tombs, was built in