Thursday, January 10, 2013

Vietnam Journal IV: Hue Citadel

Photograph by Hallie Cohen
Hanoi became the first capital of Vietnam in in 938, but in 1802, the capital was moved to Hue which is more centrally located, just below the l7th parallel (which separated the old South from the North). The reason for the move lay in part to recuse Vietnamese rulers from the powerful Chinese presence to the North. Hue Citadel was the palace that was built to house the Nguyen Dynasty which would rule from center of the country. Despite the extensive damage incurred by the bombings that followed the Tet offensive in l968, it’s now been preserved as a Unesco site. When you walk through the red and yellow painted walls where the King’s throne still stands, you can almost imagine the mandarins, eunuchs and other functionaries who were once as much as part of the architecture as the building itself.  “It’s good to be the king,” Mel Brooks famously intoned in The History of the World Part 1 and Minh Mang the second Nguyen emperor, who had 400 concubines and 145 children, proved the point. Bao Dai, the last descendent of the dynasty, who died in l997, may have inherited some of his illustrious ancestor’s genes to the extent that he abdicated his divine powers to live the life of a playboy in Paris. The Hue Citadel is Vietnam’s Versailles, but as you walk through its version of antiquity, you think of Shelley’s famous lines, “"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" The grounds of Hue Citadel are also what travel agents term a very special property.

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