After gawking at the impressive Imperial City, we got to wondering what kind of place the Vietnamese Emperors saw fit to lay their princely heads to rest. After all, they didn’t seem to build anything by halves. With a morbid sense of curiosity we chose one of the many burial grounds there is to see in the city of Hue and went in search of some deathly solitude.
We heard Vietnamese Royalty regarded tombs as a work of art – on a Great Pyramid scale of things. They took death seriously and clearly they weren’t mucking around!
We’re talking grand entrances, multi-layered intricate gateways and enormous areas of pine and frangipani trees. Gardens broken up with ponds and temple areas where you are encouraged to reflect on life and write poetry. Obviously the Emperors had no shortage of ego.
Emperor Tu Duc, whose tomb we chose out of many to visit, is often regarded as the last Emperor of Vietnam. He was the last to rule independently before the French broke up the fantasy and started to rapidly rule the country. A case of small pox left Tu Duc impotent, so he had no children to carry on his name, despite his huge harem of concubines he kept handy at the Imperial Palace. According to legend, he died in 1883, cursing the French with his dying breath. He earned a nice burial site.
We were rewarded with a tranquil and mouldy Winter setting, a place where all the tombs face West to ensure they capture the light of the fading sunset. As in life, the sun has a limited time to shine and what better way to celebrate the lives of the ruling class than surround them with beautiful architecture and ensure they could be worshipped for years to come. For us, well, we just went for the architecture, the break from the city traffic and the hope of understanding a little bit more of the cultural legacy the Emperors so kindly left behind.
If you’re really in to grave worship you can sign up for a day tour on a bus of 30 or so people and hop around to all the tomb sites of Hue, bypassing incense and hat making (no need to buy, just look) kind of establishments and a buffet lunch somewhere. We vote for the solitary visit when the tour buses have all cleared away. Visiting dead people is always so much nicer without a crowd.