The Imperial City at Hue is the best-preserved remnant of a vast citidel and royal quarters that once existed on the site. To put the ruins into context, it is important to consider how they were originally used.
In the early 19th century the Emperor Gia Long consulted geomancers to find the best place to build a new palace and citadel. The geomancers chose the present site at Hue. The Emperor wished to recreate, in abbreviated form, a replica of the Forbidden City in Beijing. At his command, tens of thousands of laborers were conscripted to dig a ten kilometer moat and earthen walls to form the outer perimeter of the citidel. Later, the earthen walls were replaced by two-meter-thick stone walls built in the style of the French military architect Vauban. Due to the topography, the citadel faced east toward the Perfume river (unlike the Forbidden City in Beijing, which faced due south). The Emperor decided to locate his own palace within the walls of the citadel along the east side nearest the river. A second, smaller set of walls and moat defined the area of the "Purple Forbidden City," where the Emperor built a network of palaces, gates, and courtyards that served as his home and the administrative core of the Empire.
By the time the last Emperor of Vietnam stepped down in the mid 20th century, the Purple Forbidden City had acquired many dozens of pavilions and hundreds of rooms. Although improperly maintained (the city suffered from frequent termite and typhoon damage) it nevertheless remained an imposing spectacle. All of that changed in 1968, when American military forces in Vietnam, reacting to the communist takeover of Hue, ordered the city retaken. American bombs blasted the majority of the city into rubble, sparing only a handful of buildings.
Nowadays the city has been declared a UNESCO site and the remaining buildings have been lovingly restored. But, much of the site was so badly damaged that it has been given over to vast rice fields that cover most of the Purple Forbidden City. Even so, the remaining buildings are sufficient to give the visitor a sense of how the Vietnamese interpreted Chinese imperial architecture and adapted it to their culture.
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