The Imperial City (Vietnamese: Hoàng thành) is a walled palace within the citadel (Kinh thành) of the city of Huế, the former imperial capital of Vietnam.


The citadel's plan in the Đại Nam nhất thống chí
Enthronement of Emperor Bảo Đại in the Imperial City in 1926

In June 1789 Nguyễn Ánh took control of Vietnam and proclaimed himself Emperor Gia Long. His rule was recognized by China in 1804. Gia Long consulted with geomancers to decide which was the best place for a new palace and citadel to be built. After the geomancers had decided on a suitable site in Huế, building began in 1804. Thousands of workers were ordered to produce a wall and moat, 10 kilometers long. Initially the walls were earthen, but later these earthen walls were replaced by stone walls, 2 meters thick.[1]

The citadel was oriented to face the Huong River to the east. This was different from the Forbidden City in Beijing, which faces south. The Emperor's palace is on the east side of the citadel, nearest the river. A second set of tall walls and a second moat was constructed around the Emperor's palace. Many more palaces and gates and courtyards and gardens were subsequently added. The reigns of the last Vietnamese Emperors lasted until the mid-1900s. At the time, the Purple Forbidden City had many buildings and hundreds of rooms. It suffered from termite and cyclone damage, but was still very impressive. Many bullet holes left over from the Vietnam War can be observed on the stone walls.[2]

In the early morning hours of January 31, 1968, as part of the Tet Offensive a Division-sized force of People's Army of Vietnam and Viet Cong soldiers launched a coordinated attack on Huế seizing most of the city. During the initial phases of the Battle of Huế, due to Huế's religious and cultural status, US troops were ordered not to bomb or shell the city, for fear of destroying the historic structures; but as casualties mounted in house-to-house fighting these restrictions were progressively lifted and the fighting caused substantial damage to the Imperial City.[3] Viet Cong troops occupied some portions of the citadel while South Vietnamese troops occupied others; and allied warplanes targeted the anti-aircraft guns the communists has mounted on the citadel's outer towers [4] Out of 160 buildings only 10 major sites remain because of the battle, such as the Thái Hòa and Cần Thanh temples, Thế Miếu, and Hiển Lâm Các. The city was made a UNESCO site in 1993. The buildings that still remain are being restored and preserved. The latest, and so far largest, restoration project is planned to conclude in 2015.[5]


Flag Tower of the citadel
Hiển Nhơn gate
Throne in the Hall of Supreme Harmony

The grounds of the Imperial City are protected by fortified ramparts 2 kilometers by 2 kilometers, and ringed by a moat. The water in the moat is routed from the Perfume River through a series of sluice gates. This enclosure is the citadel (Kinh thành).

Inside the citadel is the Imperial City (Hoàng thành), with a perimeter wall some 2.5 kilometers in length.

Within the Imperial City is the Purple Forbidden City (Tử cấm thành), a term similar to the Forbidden City in Beijing. Access to the innermost enclosure was restricted to the imperial family.[citation needed]

Imperial City gates

  • Cửa Đông Nam (Southeast Gate), also called cửa Thượng Tứ
  • Cửa Chính Đông also called cửa Đông Ba
  • Cửa Đông Bắc (Northeast Gate) also called cửa Trài or cửa Mang Cá nhỏ
  • Cửa Chính Bắc (cửa Hậu/cửa Mang Cá lớn)
  • Cửa Tây
  • Cửa Thể Nhân (cửa Ngăn)

Purple Forbidden City main gates

  • Cửa Ngọ Môn
  • Cửa Hòa Bình
  • Cửa Chương Đức
  • Cửa Hiển Nhơn

Outer Court

  • Điện Thái Hòa
  • Điện Phụng Tiên
  • Cung Trường Sanh
  • Cung Diên Thọ

Temples and places of worship

Thế Miếu
Pavillion of Splendour
Garden of the residence of the imperial mother
  • Triệu Miếu
  • Thái Miếu
  • Hưng Miếu
  • Thế Miếu
  • Điện Phụng Tiên
  • Hiển Lâm Các

Inner Court

  • Đại Cung môn
  • Tả vu, Hữu vu
  • Điện Cần Chánh
  • Điện Võ Hiển
  • Điện Văn Minh
  • Điện Trinh Minh
  • Điện Quang Minh
  • Điện Càn Thành
  • Điện Khôn Thái
  • Viện Thuận Huy
  • Viện Dưỡng Tâm
  • Ngự Tiền Văn phòng
  • Lục Viện
  • Điện Minh Thận


  • Vườn Ngự Uyển


  • Lầu Kiến Trung
  • Thái Bình Lâu

Visiting Hours

The Imperial City is open to the general public for viewing[6], however expect to pay a donation of around $2 USD per person to the Hue Monuments Conservation Centre.

Day Hours accessible to public
Monday 8am - 5:30 pm
Tuesday 8am - 5:30 pm
Wednesday 8am - 5:30 pm
Thursday 8am - 10 pm
Friday 8am - 5:30 pm
Saturday 8am - 5:30 pm
Sunday 8am - 5:30 pm

Tourist Information