Hue Imperial and the system of tombs there is not strange to visitors who are interested in the history as well as architecture of Vietnam under the reign of the Nguyen Dynasty. When coming to Hue, besides the magnificent constructions of Tombs of Tu Duc, Khai Dinh or Minh Mang, tourists should not miss a visit to Tomb of Gia Long, the resting place of the first king of the last feudal dynasty in Vietnamese history.
- Location: Huong Tho Commune, Huong Tra District, Thua Thien - Hue
Opening hours: 07.00 AM – 05.30 PM
Entrance fee: Adults: 50,000 VND. Children: free
Dress code: polite clothes
I. History of Tomb of Gia Long
1. King Gia Long
Nguyen Anh is one of the descendents of Nguyen’s Lord in Central Vietnam. After defeating Tay Son Dynasty in 1802, he established the Nguyen Dynasty and chose Hue as the capital. He was the first king of the dynasty with the era name as Gia Long, so people often call him King Gia Long.
Although his policies and rule have been a matter of controversy for decades, King Gia Long contributed to reunite Vietnam after the war. Also under his reign, the name Vietnam was used for the first time. King Gia Long passed away in 1820 at the age of 58.
2. The construction process of Tomb of Gia Long
When the first wife of King Gia Long passed away in 1814, he made his mandarins choose a land in order to build the tomb for his wife. Later, after King Gia Long declined in 1820, he was also buried in the tomb next to his wife’s grave.
According to Le Duy Thanh, the mandarin finding this area, the good effects could last for more than ten thousand years, so the mountain area was named Thien Tho Son, and the tomb was called Thien Tho.
In the time of constructing the tomb, an accident occurred that left King Gia Long seriously injured. A great wind blew out the house where the king was staying, which not only wounded the seventh and eighth princes of King Gia Long but also led to the death of some building workers. Instead of punishing the mandarins who were in charge of building the tomb, King Gia Long provided medicine, rice and money to the building workers as well as the local residents.
II. Highlights of Tomb of Gia Long
The Tomb of Gia Long is a part of a large royal tomb complex spreading in an area which perimeter is up to more than 11,000 meters. This area is the concentration of 42 hills and mountains, of which Dai Thien Tho is the highest mountain. In the neighborhood of Gia Long Tomb are the tombs of Nguyen’s lord and his wife, as well as elder sister, mother and the second wife of King Gia Long.
Gia Long Tomb is located on a low hill that is quite flat. The highest mountain Dai Thien Tho is in the front of the tomb, behind the tomb are 7 other mounts and on the two sides are 14 mounts. The mountains in the surrounding area of the tomb play a role as a natural fence protecting the tomb. A path covered by the shade of pine trees stretches from the bank of Huong River (Perfume River) to the tomb.
2. Structure and architecture
Due to the first tomb of Nguyen’s kings, the structure of Tomb of Gia Long is the simplest, but it still consists of fundamental constructions, which is the sample for the tomb of other Nguyen’s kings.
The entire tomb is divided into three parts: the worshiping area, the tomb area and Bi Dinh. The constructions inside Gia Long Tomb are allocated in three axes: the tomb area in the middle, the worshiping area on the right and Bi Dinh on the left.
Unlike other tombs with at least two lakes inside, the Tomb of Gia Long includes only one large lake in the front part. The lake in front of the construction is a familiar image of Vietnamese architecture, which not only consists of yin-yang significance but also adorns the natural beauty of the tomb.
In the worshiping area is Minh Thanh Temple used for memorizing King Gia Long and his first queen. Bi Dinh on the left of the tomb has a stele with the epitaph written by King Minh Mang, the successor of King Gia Long. Buu Thanh in the tomb area is the resting place of King Gia Long and his first wife. The Tomb of Gia Long is the only royal tomb where the grave of the queen is right next to that one of the kings.
Passing the pine forest, tourists can see two giant pillars that mark the location of the tomb. According to the historical documents, there were 85 pillars in total around the Tomb of Gia Long. However, the time and war destroyed almost all the pillars so that people can only see two ones left nowadays.
III. What to See and Do at Tomb of Gia Long?
1. Minh Thanh Temple
“Minh Thanh” means “the impressive achievement”, which implied that King Gia Long had successfully founded the Nguyen Dynasty. In contrast to the name of the temple, its architecture is quite simple.
The roof of the temple is in double-roof style like in other royal constructions. Glaze tiles were used for the roof; nowadays, the whole construction is in the mossy color. Although the architecture of Minh Thanh Temple is not too complicated, it still emanates the solemn appearance that should be found in any worshiping construction.
The stair leading to Minh Thanh Temple is divided into three paths by four banisters in the shape of dragons, which symbolizes the power of the king. Passing a three-door gate, tourists can see a small yard with grass covers on the two sides of the path leading to the door of Minh Thanh Temple. There are also two other temples on the two sides of the yard.
Stepping over the wooden door of the temple, visitors can see the altars of King Gia Long and his first queen in the center of Minh Thanh Temple. In the interior of the temple, tourists can also find some items accompanying the life of King Gia Long.
2. Buu Thanh
Unlike the tomb area in other royal tombs that is deep inside the forest, the grave of King Gia Long is protected by only a wall called Buu Thanh. Buu Thanh in the round shape is made of bricks. There is only a bronze door opening the space of the grave of King Gia Long but it is opened only twice or three times a year.
In front of the door is a seven-step staircase and a courtyard. On the two sides of the yart are the stone statues of mandarins, horses and elephants. Due to the weather conditions outdoors, the statues are in the dark color of moss. The images of stone statues are also found in all the royal tombs afterwards.
Buu Thanh encloses two stone graves of King Gia Long and Thua Thien Queen. The two graves are in the same architecture, which looks like two small houses. That is an impressive image of happiness and loyalty.
Thua Thien Queen, the first wife of King Gia Long, accompanied him from the most difficult time of his life till he became the king. Therefore, she was the only queen of the Nguyen Dynasty buried next to his husband.
3. Bi Dinh
Bi Dinh looks newer than the other constructions in the interior of Gia Long Tomb since it was restored several years ago. The restoration still remained nearly intact the original structure and architecture of the house.
The double-roof house is located in a tranquil pine forest. The yellow wall and the red tiles make it outstanding in this area, and visitors can see the construction from afar.
Bi Dinh has a stele called “Thanh Duc Than Cong” with the epitaph of King Minh Mang, the second son of King Gia Long. The epitaph praised King Gia Long as well as his merits to the Nguyen Dynasty.
The patterns on the stele were meticulously carved; two centuries have passed but the characters are still
IV. How to Get to the Tomb of Gia Long?
The Tomb of Gia Long is about 20 kilometers to the south of Hue Imperial. To reach the construction, you can opt for going by motorbike, by car or by boat.
From the center of Hue City, you follow Highway 49 to Huong Tra District. Passing Huu Trach Bridge then continuing to go 6 more kilometers, you will reach the Tomb of Gia Long. It takes you about 25 minutes to get to the tomb by car or by motorbike.
And if you fancy the charming beauty of Hue City as well as the poetic villages on the banks of Huong River, going by boat is an ideal selection for you. From the city center, you can take a boat at a wharf near the Imperial City to go upstream the river. You would have to spend more time to reach the tomb, but it is worth your time because you can contemplate the beauty of Hue City from a different spot.
V. Extra Tips
- The best time to take a tour visiting the Tomb of Gia Long is in spring, from January to February. The most gorgeous season of the year has favorable conditions for tourism activities.
- Tourists should dress politely when entering Gia Long Tomb and the surrounding temples.
- Besides the Tomb of Gia Long, tourists can also visit the tombs of other members in the king’s family in the neighborhood, including the tomb of Thuan Thien Queen – mother of King Minh Mang.
- You can only take photos in the allowed areas inside the Tomb of Gia Long.
- In general, the construction is not as attractive as other tombs of King Minh Mang, Tu Duc or Khai Dinh. So the atmosphere there is quite serene.
Not as crowded as other royal tombs in Hue, the Tomb of Gia Long is a perfect combination of nature and architecture. Coming to Gia Long Tomb, tourists can contemplate a picturesque scenery of a royal tomb outside the hustle world. The pristine but charming beauty along with the solemn atmosphere of Gia Long Tomb would leave a long-lasting impression on all visitors to this construction.