Designated a World Heritage Site in 1993, the Citadel was established by Emperor Gia Long (r.1802–20) in 1805. The huge fortress comprises three concentric enclosures – the Civic, Imperial, and Forbidden Purple Cities. The Citadel was designed using the rules of Chinese geomancy, along with the military principles favored by French architect Sebastien de Vauban. The result is an unusual yet elegant complex, where beautiful palaces and temples coexist with massive ramparts, bastions, and moats. Despite the horrific damage caused by the Indochina Wars, recent restoration work has re-imagined some of the Citadel’s lost architectural grandeur.
Dedicated to the veneration of Emperor Gia Long’s mother and father, this 19th-century temple is known for the glazed carvings on its tiled roof. Particularly noteworthy are the large gargoyle-like stone dragons keeping vigil over the spacious paved courtyard.
Nine Dynastic Urns
Cast between 1835 and 1837, these massive bronze funerary urns stand in the courtyard facing The Mieu. They represent the might of nine Nguyen Emperors, and are richly embellished with bas-reliefs of a host of powerful symbols.
Hien Lam Pavilion
Built by Emperor Minh Mang in 1824, Hien Lam Pavilion is a three-storied galleried portico, with a wooden façade, deco rated with engraved wooden beams and panels in floral designs.
Completed in 1826, the beautifully constructed Royal Theater has a pagoda-style curved roof, and a colorful interior, featuring lacquered columns, etched with the ubiquitous golden dragon motif.
Thai Hoa Palace
The grand throne palace of the Nguyen Emperors, Thai Hoa Palace is dominated by 80 red lacquered wooden columns. These massive structures are ornately decorated with golden dragons, the emblem of the Nguyen Dynasty.
Ngo Mon Gate
The majestic main entrance to the Citadel, Ngo Mon is a superb example of Nguyen architecture. Massive stone slabs form the foundation, upon which rests an elaborate watchtower, where the emperor sat enthroned on state occasions.