The Royal Tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh: a place where East meets West
- on Oct 13, 2019       By: BN
Known for its unique architecture and rich sophisticated ornaments, the Emperor Khai Dinh Royal Tomb is definitely worth a visit during your stay in Hue.
The twelfth emperor and penultimate emperor of Annam of the Nguyen dynasty, at the age of 4, Khai Dinh was the first dynastic prince of the Confederation of Sedang. This was a union between different tribes of Indochina, from 1889 to 1897. He was brought to the throne of Annam by the French on May 18, 1916, but with the title of King, not Emperor.
A unique tomb
Khai Dinh tomb is located about ten kilometers south of the ancient imperial capital of Hue, on the banks of the Perfume River. To build his tomb, King Khai Dinh chose the slope of Chau Chu Mountain. Work on the tomb of Khai Dinh began on September 4, 1920 and the construction took 11 years, from 1920 to 1931. To finance this large-scale project, Emperor Khai Dinh asked the French Protectorate Government to allow him to increase property taxes 30% across the country. An action which was very violently criticized and somewhat tarnished the esteem of the people towards their sovereign ruler. The emperor did not see the completion of the work of his tomb as he died in 1925.
The Khai Dinh tomb is distinguished from other royal tombs by its architecture which is totally different from that chosen by his predecessors. Khai Dinh had indeed chosen a particular style, mixing abundant Asian colour with European elements. So we can observe traditional Vietnamese elements mixed with elements of French architecture such as lily flowers or sun art deco style and with even Indian elements like gates in the shape of an Indian tower. It’s a very ostentatious style for this tomb, which is close to kitsch with these many tiled surfaces mosaics made from expensive imported porcelain. A style that reflected the image of its ruler who was known for his extravagance. Other peculiarities are its concrete structure and its smaller overall area than those of its predecessors.
Discover the Emperor Khai Dinh Royal Tomb
The entire tomb forms an imposing rectangular mass with 127 steps leaning against Chau Chu mountain. We climb the 127 steps to access the mausoleum, surrounded by decorations of dragons, the largest in Vietnam, with intricate carved patterns. Once the stairs are climbed, we enter the main courtyard where the guards are stood on both sides.
The courtyard of the second terrace houses statues of a guard of honour of twelve soldiers like mandarins, elephants and horses. It is on this second terrace that we also find the hexagonal pavilion on which housed the stele. A tablet on which the ideograms glorifying the merits of the king were inscribed. This pavilion has Renaissance-like architectural touches. The roof slates come from Angers and the text of the stele would have been written by Bao Dai, his successor son.
Then we access the third terrace to discover the temple of Thien Dinh. The highest point and the main construction of the necropolis. It consists of 5 adjacent rooms and 2 side rooms. The access room is only open to guardian tomb soldiers. In front of it stands the temple of Khai Dinh, which contains the altar of worship and the portrait of the king. In the middle is the Buu An, the statue of the king and the altar of worship with the burial tablet of the deceased. You can admire the beautiful mosaics of porcelain and crystal lining the walls. On the ceiling, you can see the painting of 9 dragons in the clouds ("Cuu Long an van") by artist Phan Van Tanh. In another room are exposed objects and photographs of the time, French porcelain and a bronze statue of Khai Dinh fondue in Marseille.
How to get to the Emperor Khai Dinh Royal Tomb?
The Royal Tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh is located 10 kilometres from Hue on the east bank of the Perfume River, backed by Chau Chu Mountain. There are several ways for you to discover it:
+ By car with a driver and your guide if you have used the services of a local travel agency.
By taxi, count a dozen euros for the return trip. From the city centre it takes about 25 minutes to get to Khai Dinh Tomb.
+ By taking a cruise on the Perfume River. You can do half a day or a full day with lunch on board if you want to discover several imperial tombs. It is a wonderful way of discovering the beautiful countryside of Hue, surrounded by amazing mountains and true nature.
+ The most common way to get there is by bike. It is a very beautiful trip that can be combined with the visit of other tombs and sights like the Pagoda of the Celestial Lady and the garden houses of Hue