An Dinh Palace is one of the rare palaces intact in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. Recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage, An Dinh Palace is An Dinh Palace built as a magnificent ancient European castle, with traditional decorative motifs of the royal court. It witnessed the intersection of the times with the quintessence of East and West architecture.
According to Hue Monuments Conservation Centre, An Dinh is the private palace of King Khai Dinh. Originally in this position since 1902, Nguyen Phuc Buu Dao (later King Khai Dinh) established this palace and named it An Dinh.
Some details about An Dinh Palace
An Dinh palace is a unique architecture under the Nguyen dynasty built in the early 20th century. This palace/building was initiated by King Dong Khanh (the 11th emperor of the Nguyen dynasty, Khai Dinh’s father) and was named Phung Hoa as a gift for the first son, Nguyen Phuc Buu Dao prince.
In 1916, Nguyen Phuc Buu Dao prince became the nominal ruler and named Khai Dinh. Khai Dinh then used his own money to renovate Phung Hoa palace and named it An Dinh in 1917, aiming to memorize the place he was born and grew up.
In 1922, following King Khai Dinh's wish, An Dinh Palace was gifted to prince Vinh Thuy (later King Bao Dai) as his private property to show off Khai Dinh’s affection for his son. In 1945, after the abdication at Ngo Mon Gate, the former royal family Bao Dai, his mom Tu Cung, and wife Nam Phuong, his kids and maids relocated from the Imperial Palace to live at An Dinh Palace.
From 1955, An Dinh Palace was confiscated by the Ngo Dinh Diem government and used as apartments for some local bureaucrat families.
After 1975, Bao Dai’s mother, Tu Cung, offered An Dinh Palace to the revolutionary government. For a long time, An Dinh Palace was severely degraded because it was used for multi-purpose such as public cultural venues, hospitality service business.
An Dinh Palace was restored to protect its architectural value and officially welcomed tourists all over the world.
This place witnessed many ups and downs of the Nguyen Dynasty in general and King Bao Dai’s family (the last emperor in Vietnamese history); an Dinh Palace faces the An Cuu River and is an important part of Hue's modern lifestyle.
Sightseeing of Palace
An Dinh Palace faces south, towards An Cuu River. The palace has a flat terrain with 23.463m2, surrounded by brick walls, 0.5 thick, and 1.8 high with the iron fence. When intact, there were about 10 constructions. From front to back are: Marina, Main gate, Trung Lap communal house, Khai Tuong floor, Cuu Tu Dai theater, animal sheds, lake,... Undergo the time and the destruction of the war; the three remaining intact works are the Main Gate, Trung Lap communal house, and Khai Tuong floor.
The palace was considered a place of starting good signs; however, An Dinh Palace carried a different meaning after King Bao Dai stepped down, his family moved here. This palace began unfortunate moments, separation, or fateful arrangements of the Nguyen dynasty's last empress.
An Dinh Palace was built in front of the An Cuu River; therefore, it carries sad memories, Nam Phuong empress. Let’s explore the enormous and unique architecture together and learn about Bao Dai Emperor and Nam Phuong Empress’s footsteps.
1. Main Gate
The Main Gate follows the three-story, two-story entrance, the roof with a giant pearl symbol. Notably, the gate was decorated with elaborately embossed porcelain according to the traditional construction of Vietnam.
2. Trung Lap communal house
It has an octagonal shape with a high base. The below roof layer embraces eight edges, and the under-roof layer includes four corners. Twelve beautiful dragons embossed the 12 walls. There is a bronze statue of King Khai Dinh in the communal house, proportional to real people since 1920.
The sculpture describes an Emperor and a mandarin, wearing a turban-style hat and a royal suite inside with royal cards in his chest. Furthermore, he was in a Western-style jacket but embroidered dragon, cloud, and wave features and wore leather shoes. The bronze statue provides for the next generations the objective and real overview of King Khai Dinh.
It was not surprising about this emperor’s style with the mixture between Asian and Western. This characteristic can be obvious in Khai Dinh’s tomb and Khai Tuong floor behind Trung Lap communal house, which can be compared with a European castle.
3. Khai Tuong floor
Khai Tuong floor was named by King Khai Dinh and means the starting point of good omen; it is An Dinh Palace's main architecture. There are three floors, built with new materials following European castles' style, occupying 745m2.
Considering it as the starting point of good omen, after being enthroned in 1922, An Dinh Palace became a favorite place of Vinh Thuy prince (later King Bao Dai). When Vinh Thuy became the king, this palace is a location for celebrating events, important loyal ceremonies such as the Dong Xuan ceremony of Bao Long prince (Bao Dai’s son) in 1943.
The first floor:
There are six outstanding pictures on the wall with wooden frames, beautifully carving with apricot followers, and lotus leaves. The six paintings without the titles, however, when the audience takes a look at those, it will be easy to realize these pictures are about five King’s tombs: Gia Long, Minh Mang, Thieu Tri, Tu Duc, Dong Khanh; the sixth picture (from inside to outside) is not clear about which construction. There is an opinion that the sixth picture could be the Khai Dinh Tomb outline (it is different from the current Khai Dinh tomb). After the French trip in 1920, King Khai Dinh decided to change his tomb design to Western-style, which is different from the sixth picture outline. There was no author’s signature on the six images; therefore, the artists are still anonymous. In 2003, when restored those paintings, researchers found out in the corner of one of the six paintings has Ngoan Van Nguyen’s signature.
The second floor:
The second floor is Tu Cung's bedroom (King Bao Dai’s mother), bedroom, and entertainment room of King Bao Dai family and the maids.
This floor still has many artifacts of Bao Dai’s family; above all is the place to witness the historical love story between former King Bao Dai and Empress Nam Phuong.
4. Cuu Tu Dai theatre:
When visiting An Dinh Palace, behind Khai Tuong floor, we can see the significant construction base, Cuu Tu Dai. This work was collapsed in 1947. In the early 20th century, under King Bao Dai's reign, Cuu Tu Dai was a “reformed theatre” place with the participation of famous southern bands such as Phung Da, Nam Phi,... After the two restorations in 2003, Cuu Trung Dai was rebuilt. It is a building that faces north and connects with the Khai Tuong floor by a corridor. Cuu Tu Dai theatre consists of two levels; the stage is in the middle of the first floor, the stand was designed on both floors surrounding the stage. The honor stand, where the king and royal audience is located on the second floor. The furniture decoration is similar to Thien Dinh Palace in Khai Dinh tomb, such as the walls are carved with porcelain and glass, representing the theme of traditional Vietnamese decoration. The total area of 1500m2, with a capacity of more than 500 people.
Mystery paintings on the wall
There are six decorative paintings in the hallway on the first floor that are nearly 90 years old. These frescoes are painted with oil paint directly on the walls and have a wooden frame with borders, carvings of apricot flowers, and a beautiful stylized lotus leaf.
Picture frame size has two types: 1.8m x 1.1m and 1.6m x 1.4m. These six paintings do not have names, but looking at the pictures, everyone can recognize the five tombs' true perspective: Gia Long, Minh Mang, Thieu Tri, Tu Duc, Dong Khanh; There is still an unclear drawing of what works. The drawing is very skillful, highlighting the landscape features and the beauty of each tomb, proving the author's level of rank.
After Bao Dai abdicated (September 1945), he returned to An Dinh palace with his mother Tu Cung, Queen Nam Phuong, and his children and servants. In the early 1950s, Mrs. Nam Phuong and her children moved to France, and Mrs. Tu Cung stayed here until 1955, where the Ngo Dinh Diem government confiscated An Dinh Palace.
From 1975 to 2001, An Dinh Palace was used as the labor culture house of the province. It can be said that for nearly 60 years, this castle has not been repaired, so it has been seriously degraded. Six murals are also chipped, fading in color. In 2001, An Dinh Palace was restored to organize Hue Festival Festival 2002.
In 2003, the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany sponsored 17,000 euros to restore six rare and precious ancient murals in An Dinh Palace. Through modern technology, five German restoration specialists have researched, analyzed, and restored for three months, thanks to which new pictures appear vividly today.
However, around these six pictures up to now, there are still two questions that no one can adequately explain. First, which picture of the sixth painting shows the vow or tomb? Second, who is the author of these six paintings? Regarding the first question, according to Phung Phu, director of the Center for Conservation of Ancient Monuments of Hue, An Dinh Palace was built by King Khai Dinh when he first took the throne. At that time, he had not built his mausoleum, so the sixth painting. It is impossible to draw Khai Dinh's tomb, but it is possible to draw a certain special importance palace to the court and Buu Dao himself.
And Dr. Tran Duc Anh Son, director of Hue Museum of Antiquities, said that maybe that painting painted Khai Dinh tomb while in sketch form on drawings. According to Mr. Son, at the inauguration of An Dinh Palace, 33-year-old King Khai Dinh started the mausoleum design. The painting is not the same as the current Khai Dinh tomb because after returning from France, Khai Dinh changed the tomb's design to a Western-style, which is more massive, so it is no longer the same as the painting.
The following question is even more difficult to explain. According to the Nguyen dynasty authors on Hue land (Nha Van Publishing House, 1992), these works are by painter Le Quang Duyet. And the book of Hue Fine Arts (published by the Institute of Fine Arts and the Center for Conservation of Ancient Monuments, 1992) said that these are paintings by contemporary Vietnamese painters (20th century) such as Le Duy Hien, Ton That Sa. ... Because there is no artist's signature on the picture, it is difficult to know how to identify the author.
Only when the six paintings were restored, the researchers discovered in the corner one of the six signed paintings named Nguyen Van Ngoan. Architect Phung Phu said that if the true painter were Nguyen Van Ngoan, he would be one of the painters who graduated from the Indochina Fine Arts College in Hanoi in the first courses.
But the problem is that painter Nguyen Van Ngoan graduated in 1934 when An Dinh palace was built long ago, and Khai Dinh also passed away, and Ngoan would never sign his name on other people's drawings if invited to make repairs or redraws. If these paintings were painted after 1934, by Bao Dai's idea, for example, the sixth picture must be drawn exactly as it is! There is an opinion that it is also possible that painter Nguyen Van Ngoan did not go to Indochina Fine Arts School, which the Hue court requisitioned...
The above two questions will definitely be unraveled. This is the work of Hue cultural researchers as well as art researchers.
That’s an overview of An Dinh Palace. Would you like to visit Thien Mu Pagoda the next time? Download Virelic to read and listen to other interesting stories. Tam Biet!