East meets West at Vietnamese Emperor's tomb

By Dao Tuan   August 29, 2016 | 05:00 am PT
On the outskirts of the imperial city of Hue lies a tomb unlike any other from the Nguyen Dynasty. 

With an eye on the afterlife, resting places are of the utmost importance to Vietnamese people, and past monarchs with a nearly unlimited supply of money didn't hold back on their journeys to the underworld. "Life is temporary, death is permanent," was the reason many decided to build splendid and sophisticated tombs. Rulers of the past put a ridiculously huge amount of effort into creating a tomb befitting of their position. Feng Shui was employed to find the best rsting place, while money and thousands of hours of labor were poured in to remind the next generations of how important out rulers were, leaving a lasting legacy.


The tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh, located on the slopes of Chau Chu Mountain, is about 10 kilometers from central Hue. It took 11 years to build, starting in 1920. The overall construction of the tomb is an emerging rectangular structure leaning against the mountain. The significant feature of the tomb, which distinguishes it from other royal tombs in Hue, lies in the subtle blend between Vietnamese and Western architectural styles. It is said that Emperor Khai Dinh had construction materials imported from France, Japan and China.


Khai Dinh's tomb is much smaller than others from the Nguyen Dynasty. At the entrance, there are 37 steps leading to the main gate with dragons carved along the walls. 


After some 30 more steps, you reach the imperial court. On both sides of the courtyard, there are two rows of statues facing the central path leading to the altar area. These statutes, unlike other concrete structures here, are made of stone.


Emperor Khai Dinh reigned for nine years from 1916 to 1925. He believed that Vietnam was too technologically backward to assert itself among modern nations and that it should acquire an understanding of French civilization and Western scientific knowledge before becoming independent. He was the first reigning Vietnamese monarch to visit Europe. 


The tomb was built out of concrete with a mixture of Vietnamese and Western concepts. It can be seen as either an attempt at fusion or a symbol of a dying Vietnamese empire during the colonial era. That’s why the tomb received such as mixed reaction and it's the most criticized among all the tombs of the Nguyen Dynasty.


The altar area includes the Khai Thanh Palace and many interconnected rooms. The walls are decorated with millions of pieces of ceramics and glass. The floor is covered with tiles with a floral design and the ceiling is hand-painted with nine dragons in clouds.


The rear room of the Khai Thanh Palace is the main temple, with a statue of Khai Dinh, his tomb and his altar.


The most noticeable features of the tomb are the glass and ceramic mosaics.


Dragons, which symbolize imperial power, are commonly used as a decorative feature.


Stone statues with various facial expressions were a masterpiece of Vietnamese artisans in the early 20th century.

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