Hue, the ancient citadel in Central Vietnam, has long been well-known for its historical constructions built under the reign of Nguyen Dynasty. Besides the Imperial City, there are various tombs of Nguyen’s King capturing the attention of both domestic and international visitors. Of all these works, Tomb of Thieu Tri (Xuong Lang) is an impressive destination that tourists should not miss when coming to Hue.
I. History of Tomb of Thieu Tri
1. King Thieu Tri
Nguyen Phuc Mien Tong was the first son of King Minh Mang, the second king of the Nguyen Dynasty. After King Minh Mang passed away in 1841, his first son became the successor with the era name as Thieu Tri. 7 years after ascending the throne, King Thieu Tri declined in 1847 when he was only 41 years old. Due to the fact that King Thieu Tri had not taken into account the construction of his tomb, his son, King Tu Duc, was in charge of building the tomb of King Thieu Tri.
During the construction time of the tomb, the corpse of King Thieu Tri was buried in Long An Temple inside Bao Dinh Palace for 8 months.
2. The Construction Process of Thieu Tri Tomb
According to the mandate of King Thieu Tri, King Tu Duc chose a low mountain in Huong Thuy District, which was not very far from the Imperial City. After that, the mountain was named Thuan Dao Mountain and the tomb was called Xuong Lang.
Tomb of Thieu Tri started its construction in February 1848 under the supervision of Vu Van Giai, a mandarin of King Tu Duc. The tunnel for moving the coffin of King Thieu Tri into the grave was built on March 23rd 1848. On June 14th 1848, King Tu Duc looked over the construction for the last time. 10 days later, the coffin of King Thieu Tri was moved to the tomb.
It was not until November 1848 when the last construction was completed that the building process stopped. Since the tomb was built in haste, it took only 10 months in total to finish all the constructions.
Although King Thieu Tri had wanted his tomb built in the simplest way, it was still an imposing construction with palaces, temples, lakes and other related constructions. Due to the degraded situation of the tomb through the time, in 2006, the restoration of Thieu Tri Tomb in a large scale was taken and completed in 2010. Basically, the restoration still preserved the initial structure and architecture of all constructions inside the Tomb of Thieu Tri.
II. Highlights of Tomb of Thieu Tri
The structure and architecture of Tomb of Thieu Tri is the combination of the two previous tombs: Tomb of Gia Long and Tomb of Minh Mang.
In terms of the feng-shui aspect, Tomb of Thieu Tri is similar to Tomb of Gia Long. The tomb does not have La Thanh, the outermost wall protecting the whole construction. Instead, it utilizes the surrounding mountains as a natural wall, which not only protects the interior but also adorns the imposing appearance of the tomb. Tomb of Thieu Tri leans on Thuan Dao Mountain, the front part is an immense paddy field stretching from the bank of Huong River to Lim Bridge.
Due to the geography condition, the tomb faces northwest, an unpopular direction of architecture in general and of Hue’s ancient constructions in particular. In the distance of 1 kilometer in front of the tomb, Vong Canh hill on the right and Ngoc Tran Mountain on the left as a tiger and a dragon guarding the tomb.
2. Structure of Thieu Tri Tomb
While the structure of the constructions inside Tomb of Thieu Tri and Tomb of Gia Long are the same, the arrangement of these constructions is like in Tomb of Minh Mang. The tomb does not have only one Than Dao axis in the middle but two parallel axes, on which are the main constructions including temples, palaces and courtyard. The Tomb of Thieu Tri includes two parts, the worshiping area on the left and the tomb area on the right.
The worshiping area starts with Dien Lake in the shape of a crescent moon, a popular trait that can be seen in all tombs of Nguyen’s King. Behind the lake is a three-door gate, which is like the main entrance to the worshiping place. At the rear of the gate are yards with different heights leading to the highest gate called Hong Trach Mon. Hong Trach Mon opens the space to Bieu Duc Temple, the central construction of the worshiping area where the altars of King Thieu Tri and Queen Tu Du. Some auxiliary temples gather around Bieu Duc Temple to highlight its solemn appearance.
Like the worshiping area, the tomb area on the right has a lake named Nhuan Trach in the front part. A three-door gate leads to Bai Dinh yard with Bi Dinh house, which is the location of “Thanh Duc Than Cong” stele. The next construction is Duc Hinh Lau, but due to the destruction of time, now tourists can only see its floor. The rear of the floor is a flower garden divided into two parts by a path in the middle. Ngung Thuy lake in half-moon shape and Chanh Trung bridge leading to Buu Thanh, which encloses the grave of King Thieu Tri.
3. Architecture of Thieu Tri Tomb
The architecture of the Tomb of Thieu Tri is similar to that one of the Tomb of Minh Mang.
3.1. The worshiping area
In the worshiping area, the three-door gate made of marble opens the space of a large yard. The yard is paved with red bricks and at the end of the yard is Hong Trach Mon. Hong Trach Mon is a gate with two floors and three doors which is roofed with red tiles. Stepping over Hong Trach Mon, another brick yard surrounded by green trees appears in front of your eyes.
On the opposite side of Hong Trach Mon is Bieu Duc Temple. The temple is in the double-roof style, which can be seen in many other temples built during the Nguyen Dynasty. The roof of Bieu Duc Temple is decorated with the image of dragons as well as 450 relief carved ancient poems. The pillars inside the temple are made of wood and painted vermillion and golden color. At the center of Bieu Duc temple is the ancestral tablet of King Thieu Tri and his wife, Queen Tu Du.
3.2. The tomb area
The tomb area starts with Nhuan Trach lake and a three-door gate made of copper. Bai Dinh yard at the rear of the gate is paved with square-shaped bricks. On the two sides of the yard are two rows of statues of civil mandarins and military mandarins, along with the stone statue of elephants and horses. The mandarins and animals are like the gate-keepers protecting the sleep in death of King Thieu Tri.
Bi Dinh is the next architecture in the tomb area. The house in the square shape keeps a stone stele called “Thanh Duc Than Cong”. On the stele is an epitaph with more than 2,500 Chinese characters written by King Tu Duc in order to praise the merits of King Thieu Tri when he was alive.
Continuing to go deep inside the tomb area, tourists can see the base of Duc Hinh Lau then two parts of a flower garden. A solemn atmosphere covers the whole construction. Ngung Thuy lake with three stone bridges named Dong Hoa, Tay Dinh and Chanh Trung. On the two bridge-heads of Chanh Trung bridge in the middle are two gates with the same structure as the gate at the entrance of the tomb area.
Buu Thanh in the round shape is the wall enclosing the grave of King Thieu Tri. The grave is located in a low hill covered by the green color of old trees. The incense smell spreads in the space of Buu Thanh, giving tourists a feelling as in a fairy world.
III. What to See and Do at the Tomb of Thieu Tri?
1. Bieu Duc Temple
Bieu Duc Temple is the most important architecture in the worshiping area. This is the place of worship of King Thieu Tri and Queen Tu Du. The atmosphere here is not only peaceful and quiet but also covered in a spiritual appearance, which makes every tourist excited to discover the whole construction. Relax yourself in the antique look of the temple, in the silent sound and tranquil smell of incense.
2. Bai Dinh
Bai Dinh yard is the next construction that you should not miss when visiting the Tomb of Thieu Tri. The yard looks similar to Bai Dinh yard in other tombs of Nguyen’s kings, with the statues of mandarins on the two sides. Bi Dinh house with “Thanh Duc Than Cong” stele at the highest place of the yard is the honor of the king. Setting foot on Bai Dinh is like a trip going back to the past to see a general court under the feudal system.
3. Buu Thanh
In each chance to visit the tombs of Nguyen’s kings, Buu Thanh with the grave of the king is a must-visit place for all tourists. The grave of King Thieu Tri is deep inside the jungle, so visitors might feel a little bit scared and much more eager to explore. Escaping from the hustle world of humans, there is the place tourists can mix with nature and the mysterious landscape of the spiritual world.
IV. How to Get to the Tomb of Thieu Tri?
Tomb of Thieu Tri is about 8 kilometers to the south of Hue City center. To reach the construction, tourists can choose to go by motorbike, by car or by taxi.
From Hue Imperial City, you cross Huong River, then follow Dien Bien Phu Street. To the intersection with Le Ngo Cat Street, you turn right then turn left to Minh Mang Street. Go straight ahead and follow the direction of Highway 19 to the southeast until you can see the sign for Tomb of Thieu Tri, turn right and you can reach the tomb.
It takes you about 15 minutes to reach the tomb by car or by motorbike.
V. Extra Tips
- The most ideal period to visit Tomb of Thieu Tri is from January to February. At that time, the weather is quite gentle for outdoor journeys.
- You should avoid going in the rainy and flood season at the end of the year.
- It may take you 2 to 3 hours to visit the whole construction of Thieu Tri Tomb.
- Polite dressing is a must when entering the Tomb of Thieu Tri.
- Photos are not allowed in some parts of the tomb, especially the interior of Buu Thanh.
- If you want to know more about the architecture and historical values of Thieu Tri Tomb, you should go with a tour guide.
The time has left a mossy appearance at the Tomb of Thieu Tri. Although it was built in a short period, every construction inside Thieu Tri Tomb is still an evidence for the peak of architecture of the Nguyen Dynasty. Remaining in each brick and each tile is the spirit of a dynasty with antique values that have been preserved for nearly two hundred years. Having a chance to Hue, don’t forget to find yourself in the harmonious combination of nature and architecture of Thieu Tri Tomb.
Keyword: Tomb of Thieu Tri: an Ancient Construction in Hue Citadel