If you ever get the chance to visit Viet Nam, I highly recommend a tour of this UNESCO site and powerful dynasty that began in 1802 when Nguyen An gained control of Viet Nam. He then called himself Emperor Gia Long, a combination of the old name of Saigon (Gia Dinh) and Hanoi (Thang Long) to indicate unity of the country. The construction of Imperial City began in 1804 and today, it remains a walled fortress measuring 2 kilometres by 2 kilometres and is complete with a moat. Within this walled city there is the Purple Forbidden City, which was strictly for the Nguyen Family, where they lived. The Nguyen Dynasty lasted from 1802 to the end of World War II (1945), with thirteen rulers.
Here is an image of Ngo Mon Gate- the main entrance to the city. Since the fall of the dynasty in 1945, the middle green door has remained closed as it was tradition that the middle path was restricted for the Emperor and his family.
The word Nguyen may look familiar to you as today, it seems to be a popular Vietnamese last name. What can we draw from our knowledge from history about Kings and rulers? They want their legacy to last forever, and having sons was extremely important to maintain the family name as it ensured longevity of the family’s power for future generations. This isn’t to say that everyone with the last name Nguyen is of royalty, due to the rise and fall of the dynasty many people may have changed their last name. However, a probable conclusion as to why Nguyen is a popular last name is that one of the rulers, (I believe most likely Emperor Minh Mang- my writing in my notebook is incredibly scribbly) had 504 wives and 144 children. Yes, you read that correctly. All of his children took the name Nguyen with distinctions following, what’s called a “generation name” from an Imperial Succession Poem to avoid confusion, for example, Nguyen Bao or Nguyen Tinh. So if your last name is Nguyen and it’s followed by a word from the Imperial Succession Poem, you may just come from royalty!
Here is a hallway that is very decorative where there are shrines (on the left) for each of the thirteen emperors, for visitors to give offerings and pray.
While visiting the city, the colours and architecture were what really interested me and it made me realize that I want to learn more about South East Asian Art and Architecture. Unfortunately, there are very few courses on this subject, however my background in Art History (being Baroque and Contemporary art- I know two very different periods) did help me see trends that are evident for any period and any location. Such as the use of imagery to tell religious tales and reminding people of the values and morals of that time. There is also the use of art and story telling to illustrate a family’s wealth and power. This was certainly used to have an effective visual impact on viewers and visitors of the Imperial City to truly understand the wealth of the Nguyen Dynasty such as the use of gold in the picture with shrines above.
There is so much history and I encourage you if you are interested to research more. I could talk about the influence of the French and invasions by France and Japan during the Nguyen Dynasty and how it affected the rulers, or the colonization or what happened to the unification of Viet Nam. I could also talk more about the ultimate downfall of the Dynasty due to the uprising communist regime. However, this post is only a very brief history of Imperial City and the Nguyen Dynasty. I hope though, that this did spark an interest and that you would consider visiting this site on your next trip to Viet Nam.