Having hundreds of wives and concubines sounds bizarre and out of this world especially in this date and time, and that is probably the reason why the Forbidden Purple City in Hue is one of the most visited places in Vietnam. In fact, even pictures of the forbidden city are enough to rouse interest in tourists.
Built inside the Imperial City, which has a wall 12 feet high and four feet thick sitting inside the Citadel with a wall 2 kilometers by 2 kilometers, the Forbidden Purple City with slightly thinner walls is a citadel within a citadel within a citadel. It lies within the center of the Imperial Enclosure and houses hundreds of royal concubines. No other male person besides the Emperor was allowed behind its narrow gates. In fact, the only male servants that could go through it were eunuchs especially assigned to guard the place.
The Citadel is a walled palace where the Emperor lived with his wives. The land is surrounded by walls that are further surrounded by a wide water-filled ditch dug to give protection to the palace. The water was said to have been taken from the Huong River or the Perfume River flowing through the city of Hue.
Inside this structure is another walled fortress called the Imperial City. And inside this fortress, deep within, is the Forbidden Purple City. Inside were a number of buildings with hundreds of rooms inside. The structure of the city was reminiscent of the Forbidden City in Beijing, China and it was believed to have been patterned after it by the Emperor Gia Long who ordered the construction of the Citadel.
In 1802, when Emperor Gia Long took control of Vietnam, he decided to build a new palace from where he could rule. Several Geomancers were consulted for the best place to build the palace and in 1804, a suitable field was found in Hue and construction began. Thousands of workers were ordered to build the palace. Stone walls and moats were constructed according to the Emperor’s directions.
The Citadel was designed to face the Perfume River in the East and the King’s palace lies on the Eastern side of the fortress. Construction of walls and moats around the palace was also ordered by Emperor Gia Long and since then gardens, courtyards and small palaces were successively built around the Imperial City.
These groups of small palaces, gardens and courtyards served as his home. They are also where his staff with administrative functions conducted their business. The whole place later became known as Cung Thanh or City of Residences.
The last Emperor of Vietnam surrendered his crown and power during the 1900s, and when the bombings in 1968 during the American-Vietnam War happened, the Forbidden Purple City along with other structures in the Citadel were destroyed.
In 1993, the Forbidden Purple City and the whole Citadel were declared a “World Heritage Site” by the UNESCO, and today, what remains after the bombings are continuously being repaired and restored so that the generations today and those yet to come will be able to see their country’s cultural heritage.