Minh Mang’s royal tomb reflects the emperor’s staunch traditionalism, laid out in a classical Chinese scheme with a symmetry that no other royal tomb approaches. The forty structures within the royal tomb complex lie within an oval, walled compound, bisected by a central path that contains the salutation court, stele pavilion, and the emperor’s own tomb.
The emperor ordered the construction of his tomb but did not live to complete it; he died in 1840 and was only laid to rest in his tomb in 1843 when his son had completed the tomb for him.
The opulence of Tu Duc’s tomb stands in contrast to the tragic length of his life. Tu Duc reigned longest among the Nguyens, dying childless after 35 years on the throne and cursing the French for their growing influence.
Tu Duc is the only emperor who moved his household into his own tomb, building a Forbidden City of his own on the grounds. Some believe this was due to smallpox that rendered him infertile; in fact, of the emperors who built their tombs in Hue, Tu Duc is the only emperor who wrote his own stele, as he had no son to do this essential duty.
The tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh took 11 years to complete. His enduring unpopularity is due in part to his heavy taxation on peasants to finance the construction of this edifice. Khai Dinh ordered a tomb that had heavy French elements within its design. Unlike those of his predecessors, Khai Dinh’s tomb is built like a monument: it consists mainly of concrete, preceded by a wrought-iron triple gate. Inside, guests will find a riotous battle between Eastern and Western design elements, colorfully decorated with pieces of broken glass and porcelain.
Despite Gia Long’s status as the first of the Nguyen emperors, his tomb’s inaccessibility and his own unpopularity in Vietnamese history make his royal tomb one of the least visited in Hue. The local government has let the site go to seed, allowing the damage from the war to go unrepaired. Gia Long’s tomb is notable for being the template that all the other tombs have followed.
The son of Minh Mang and the father of Tu Duc, this emperor ordered a more unprepossessing tomb compared to his more grandiose relations. Its most notable architectural element is a covered bridge that resembles the iconic bridge in Hoi An. His brief reign meant that his tomb was still incomplete upon his death. For a time, the emperor was interred in the Long An Temple within the Citadel (now the Museum of Antiquities).
The smallest of the known royal tombs in Hue, Dong Khanh’s tomb is actually a repurposed memorial temple. Dong Khanh himself had ordered the construction of a temple to commemorate his father’s memory, but his successor Thanh Thai converted this temple into Dong Khanh’s tomb. Dong Khanh was a puppet emperor controlled by the French; his tomb, as a result, shows a distinct French influence, with stained glass windows and terra-cotta reliefs mixing with traditional Eastern design influences.
The Emperor Duc Duc shares his comparatively modest tomb with two other emperors who had fallen foul of the French colonial authorities and, as a consequence, were denied dignified resting places of their own. Today, the Emperors Thanh Thai and Duy Tan rest behind the Long An Temple on Duc Duc’s tomb grounds. Inside the temple are three altars set up to commemorate the three emperors on the grounds.