Ngo Mon Gate, Hue: Echoes of the Old Imperial Day

Travel Guide to Meridian Gate

Rachel Tran
Rachel Tran | Published: February 5, 2021

Ngo Mon Gate or Meridian Gate is closely associated with Hue Imperial Citadel, so both expats and Vietnamese locals hold the view that research into this ancient citadel allows further understanding of Hue’s cultures or Vietnamese history. It is widely believed that this gate is such a masterpiece in a number of aspects. Along with Truong Tien Bridge, Stage of Flag, Thien Mu Pagoda, Meridian Gate is considered as the most representative features of Hue City and the Complex of Hue Monuments recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO.

    Location: Hue Imperial Citadel Complex, Phu Hau, Hue City, Thua Thien Hue
    Opening hours: Everyday from 7:00 to 17:00

I. History of Ngo Mon Gate

History of Ngo Mon gate (alotrip)

1. Construction

Ngo Mon Gate, the main southern gate of Hue Citadel, is regarded as the face of the Imperial Wall and feudal dynasty. Ngo Mon Gate was built in King Minh Mang’s Era- the 2nd king of the Nguyen Dynasty.

In 1833, at the same time with the upgradation of the Nguyen Dynasty’s castle, King Minh Mang built Ngo Mon Gate – the main southern gate of the Imperial City. There used to be other constructions on the location, but they were all dismantled for Ngo Mon Gate: in Gia Long Era, there was Nam Khuyet Dai, a sight-seeing pedestal and on the pedestal was Can Nguyen Palace, a sight-seeing place, on both sides of which were two doors: Left Doan Mon and Right Doan Mon. 

In 1968, after the battle of Mau Than in Hue, Ngo Mon was severely damaged. It was in 1970 that Ngo Mon Gate and some other works (also damaged) were overhauled.

What to see in Ngo Mon gate

2. The name

According to Kinh Dich, the King always sit facing south to rule the world. Therefore, the entire Imperial Citadel was built in accordance with the principle of “Toa can huong ton” (Northeast-Southwest) to ensure that. The Imperial Wall has four gates and Ngo Mon is the largest of which, “Ngo” in the gate’s name means south, the direction to which the gate faces. Some people may misunderstand Ngo Mon gate as Noon Gate (since Ngo also means noon in Vietnamese-Chinese), but it should be translated, most closely, into Meridian Gate. 

Based on the compass, the south belongs to the direction of “Ngo” on the axes “Ty- Ngo” (north-south), so the name Ngo Mon embraces the meaning of space, direction, rather than time (Ngọ also means noon in Vietnamese-Chinese). 

In spite of being the main gate, Ngo Mon Gate wasn’t used much for its refined meaning. It was only used when the King and his convoy went in and outside the Citadel and for greeting important delegates. 

What to see in Ngo Mon gate 2

3. Function

In terms of function, Ngo Mon Gate is not only the gate of the Imperial Wall but also a  ceremonic gate leading to a pivotal architecture of the Citadel – Ky pedestal. 

Ngo Mon Gate has witnessed historical events of the Vietnamese history such as the Truyen Lo ceremony (where martyrs who won the Doctor title are acclaimed), Ban Soc ceremony (when the King gave out calendars), Parade ceremony,… The most dignified event that ever took place in Ngo Mon Gate was the abdication ceremony of King Bao Dai – the last king of the Vietnamese feudal dynasty on August 30, 1945.

Ngo Mon gate from afar
Source: InsightTim

4. Meaning and Values

Existed over the long period of 180 years with the forces of time, nature, climate, and wars Ngo Mon Gate stands firm to this day to become a symbol of Hue.

Dr. Phan Thanh Hai, former Director of Hue Monuments Conservation Center, commented on Ngo Mon Gate: “Outstanding among the shade of trees, flowers, and water, Hue Ngo Mon Gate always reminds people of a relaxing and peaceful feeling. Perhaps that is why, naturally, the image of this door has become a symbol of Hue ”.

Ngo Mon Gate embraces the old values of the aristocratic society. Beyond both political and time factors, Ngo Mon has become a symbol of Hue, and will forever be a beautiful image of the ancient capital.

II. Highlights of Ngo Mon Gate

Highlights of Ngo Mon Gate (Phuong Nhi)

Ngo Mon Gate, a gate constructed in the southern directions, has long been renowned for its massive scale and unique architecture. Ngo Mon is actually referred to as the location of the gate instead of midday or noon translated from some sources. Understanding its true meaning is of great importance as it serves as a hint about the position of Ngo Mon gate in the overall architecture of Dai Noi.

This is a very convenient location for visitors to appreciate the scenery of Hue Citadel because Ngo Mon Gate is the main gate to the Imperial City in Thua Thien Hue province. As a first-time tourist, I highly recommend you join a guided sightseeing tour of Hue Citadel to have a firm grasp of famous tourist attractions. As regards ones who have already visited here or adventurous tourists, it is worth trying exploring this citadel on their own for new experiences.

1. Architecture

Architecture of Ngo Mon gate

Ngo Mon Gate is one of the most typical ancient architectural works of Mount Ngu Binh and Huong river (Perfume River) – the soul of Hue. In spite of over a century and a half being wartorn and disaster-striken, thanks to skillful construction techniques and arts of architecture, Ngo Mon still stands firmly with the passing of time, and its intangible values remain as precious as in the past.

Ngo Mon Gate, in terms of architecture, is fairly sophisticated. As a matter of fact, it is believed to bear a close resemblance to Ngo Mon Gate in Beijing Palace, but it still clearly reflects Vietnamese national architectural styles. Apart from its peculiar architecture, Ngo Mon is also a venue that reminisces visitors of a long feudal history based on her guide’s concrete instructions. 

This building has a very special terrain. Standing on the Ngu Phung Pavilion offers tourists a panoramic view to admire the Hue Citadel as a whole. The most noticeable feature is Flag Tower of which top situated a red flag complemented by a yellow star. This colossal architectural work is considered as a witness of history. On 23th August 1945, the flag of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was flown for the first time here, representing a break with the monarchy at that time. Looking further inside, you can lead your way in Thai Hoa Palace via a Trung Dao bridge across Thai Dich Lake and head for the Dai Trieu Nghi courtyard.

Ngo Mon Gate deservedly earns a place in the toplist of the best art works of Nguyen Dynasty in particular and of Vietnamese age-old architecture in general. Despite years of ups and downs, as a witness of many revolutionary historical changes, Ngo Mon Gate still retains unique architectural features of primitive times. It is not only a symbol of the ancient capital but also a representation of engineering construction techniques in the past. Ngo Mon Gate is a harmonious combination of domestic and foreign materials and old hands’ skills, which greatly contributed to a well-established architecture for many centuries. 

Ngo Mon Gate represents traits of architecture under the Nguyen Dynasty, for it is imbued with national identity and feudal dynasty in ancient times. With the ability to utilize and coordinate indigenous materials skillfully, craftsmen and artisans successfully created a masterpiece perceived as the pinnacle of Hue imperial architecture. Beyond all political and historical factors, Ngo Mon is indeed Hue’s reflection which ingrains in all Vietnamese people’s minds, to say the least.

2. Structure

Structure of Ngo Mon gate

As regards its structure, Ngo Mon Gate comprises two main parts: the ground level – Dai and the upper level – Ngu Phung Pavillion. The former resembles a fortress made of brick and stone, whereas the latter has a much more elaborated structure. 

The Dai has a perpendicular U-shaped structure, of which the length and the width are 57.77 metres and 27.06 metres respectively. The ground level constructed of brick and stone, together with durable bars made of brass, is nearly 5 metres high, occupying an area of more than 1,560 square metres. This part serves as a firm foundation as it is very thick with an almost vertical slope, enabling the whole structure to maintain its shape over time. Be that as it may, this ground level still brings a stately feeling to its appreciators. 

The Dai has five entries in total, each of which is exclusive to a particular position in the dynasty. For instance, the central main entrance (Ngo Mon Gate) was, as far as I’m concerned, reserved for the King only, mandarins, soldiers followed by horses and elephants were allowed to use two small U-shape side entries, and the rest including commoners could only use two outermost entrances. The top of all five entrances looks like a big high arch strengthened by brass crossbars. Furthermore, the exterior is copper foil laminates to add an air of aesthetics to the appearance of Ngo Mon Gate.

Above the group level is Ngu Phung Pavilion – Five Phoenix Pavilion consisting of two floors, and the frame structure is entirely made of iron wood with even 100 pillars. The name has its origin from the elegant appearance of the pavilion – five phoenixes flocking together. 

There are 13 rooms with 5 roofs built in a row. What makes Ngu Phung Pavilion unique is that 5 roofs are divided into 2 lines, each of which is made of 2 roofs. The lower roof is connected, running along the ground level to serve as a shelter to cover the corridor. The upstairs roof is divided into 9 sets including the central roof set – Yellow-tiled roof and the remaining eight sets – Green-tiled roof. These all factors complement one another in the seemingly impeccable pride of Vietnamese architecture. 

I am certain that you will be impressed by Ngo Mon Gate due its architecture which is completely a far cry from the contemporary one. Don’t forget to bring a camera while visiting here because you may want to take some photos of the breathtaking scenery in Ngo Mon gate – a part of The Complex of Hue Monuments. During the opening hours, rarely do I drop by without seeing a crowd of people in front of this complex.

Inside of Ngo Mon gate

III. How to Get to Ngo Mon Gate

As Ngo Mon Gate is one integral part of Hue Imperial Citadel, you must get to this Old Imperial city before reaching this famous destination. Thanks to the Citadel’s bustling vicinity, getting to this place will definitely not be a daunting challenge! You can reach here:.

By Grab/Be: Those two are among the most popular booking apps in Vietnam. With the support of these two apps, it will be much easier for foreigners to book a taxi or have a Vietnamese “xe om” (motorbike) experience. Besides, the price will also be announced in advance, which removes the being – ripped – off worry for first-time visitors.

By Walking: There are various comfortable hotels located around this well-known complex; therefore, if you are lucky enough to stop by a hotel within this place’s vicinity, walking may be a perfect transportation method for you. No fare, no haggling, no adventurous xe om ride, this option allows you to fully observe the beauty of Hue’s Street. According to experienced travellers, early morning would be the suitable time to have this “manual” means of transport. The fresh and resilient atmosphere of the “normally hectic” city in the early morning, as well as the serene river view, will be an amazing background for your walk.

IV. Facts and Tips

Ngo Mon Gate has been restored to its former glory, and the conservation center of the Complex of Hue Monuments will continue working on research into reliving meaningful past events to provide tourists with an excellent memorable trip.

Visiting Hue affords a great many opportunities of gaining hands-on experience about residents’ life and enjoy the hustle and bustle which is pretty typical of cities in Vietnam. You can drop by some vibrant and bustling local markets and if you feel interested and curious, I will highly recommend Dong Ba Market – a very popular one in Hue.

Hue Festival usually takes place around April to May every year, so this is the busiest and most crowded time of the year, for quite a few extremely attractive cultural and artistic activities are organized here. However, if you travel to Hue during this time, you should have a thorough plan, and it’s best to book in advance. One more thing to note is that prices will also increase much higher during tourist seasons.

To enter the Ngo Mon Gate, you will have to buy an entrance ticket outside the Imperial City. Each person is required to hold it in hand, enabling an easy control. As a visitor, you should dress politely, not wear underarms or short clothes, especially when visiting places of worship in the palace and sanctuary areas. Regulations state that filming and taking pictures in these places are also not allowed. In addition, do not carry explosives and flammable substances in any circumstances, and smoking is forbidden inside palaces or places of worship.

Hopefully, these fundamental and mandatory things give you an overall view about this tourist attraction. Let’s visit Ngo Mon Gate for a fun trip and the most enjoyable experience.

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