During the 143-year reign of the Nguyen dynasty (1802–1945), the last ruling family of Vietnam, Hue was an imperial capital famed for the piety of its monasteries and splendour of its royal palaces and mausoleums. Much damage was inflicted on its monuments by the Indochina wars, but extensive restoration work has revived some of the town’s former glory.
Hue’s north side is dominated by the Imperial City or Dai Noi (literally ‘Great Enclosure’) – a splendid fortress of interlocking courtyards encircled by high ramparts. At its heart lies the ‘Forbidden Purple City’ where the Emperor, his Queen and five ranks of concubines, servants and eunuchs resided amid fabulous pomp. No less architecturally impressive are the Nguyen’s ornate tombs, dotted over pretty farmland to the south of the town, best reached by bicycle or river cruise.