“More than 50,000 people labored here in its heyday,” writes David Swanson in The Los Angeles Times, but today “much of the enormous feudal capital is unrecognizable, its elegant stone dragon banisters collecting moss.” The Imperial City is the “centerpiece of Hue's UNESCO World Heritage designation,” and it’s surrounded by the Citadel, “six miles of six-foot-thick brick walls and a moat.” Some of the Citadel's buildings were destroyed by fire in 1947, he explains, while others crumbled during the Tet Offensive, “but the Hall of Supreme Harmony is one of several that has been gloriously restored.”
Gia Long was the first emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty, explains Time Travel Turtle. “He created this dynasty with blood, attacking self-styled emperors and rulers of different tracts of land in the region,” creating “what we know as modern Vietnam,” which the Nguyen Dynasty ruled over for the next 143 years.
In the early 19th century the Emperor decided to build a replica of Beijing’s Forbidden City, writes Oriental Architecture. “At his command, tens of thousands of laborers were conscripted to dig a ten kilometre moat and earthen walls to form the outer perimeter of the citidel.” The earthen walls were later replaced by two-metre-thick stone walls and “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.”
Most of the site is “crumbling stone buildings and walls overtaken by trees and plants,” says Frommers. “The natural disrepair gives the place an authentic, ancient feeling,” but restoration is “happening fast” and the result is “rather kitschy.” The site is “not spectacular in itself, but the history and traditions are rich,” notes Frommers, “and a good guide can give you a breakdown of what things once looked like and what life was like at the Imperial court.”