The Most Magnificent Mausoleum in Vietnam



Hue is an ancient city with beautiful old architecture, as seen in solemn tombs and mossy temples. Among the most famous mausoleum complexes is Khai Dinh’s tomb - One of the Nguyen kings’ worship places. Located on Chau Chu mountain, Huong Thuy Town, the tomb is also known as Ung Mausoleum. Unlike any previous tombs for its manifestation of different architecture schools, this place is the unique intersection where West meets East.


Khai Dinh Mausoleum - The Most Magnificent Mausoleum in Vietnam


Emperor Khai Dinh



Emperor Khai Dinh

Khai Dinh, whose real name is Nguyen Phuc Buu Dao, was born in 1885, the eldest son of Emperor Dong Khanh and Empress Consort Huu Thien Thuan. When he ascended the throne, he was renamed Nguyen Phuc Tuan, and his emperor name was Khai Dinh. He was the 12th emperor of the Nguyen feudal dynasty of Vietnam.


Just four years after taking the throne (i.e., at the age of 36), Khai Dinh began building his tomb, but the mausoleum was not yet completed; on November 6, 1925, the emperor, unfortunately, died of serious illness. After that, Emperor Bao Dai - the only child of Khai Dinh - ascended to the throne and continued the work of constructing the tomb of his father. In that manner, the construction of Khai Dinh’s tomb was carried from father to son and lasted for 11 years. Although the mausoleum has a much smaller area than other mausoleums around, the inner architecture is extraordinarily unique and sophisticated, resulting from the intersection between Vietnamese and Eurasian, between classical and modern architecture. Besides, the tomb also reflects, more or less, the personality and aesthetic conception of the King at his time.


Facts about Khai Dinh and This Emperor’s Mausoleum


First, Khai Dinh is the emperor with the "most quirky" personality. Khai Dinh had 12 wives known to serve the emperor, but these talented, young, and beautiful women often felt very lonely being with the King. The emperor usually told the officials: "My palace is a temple. If anyone wants to become a monk, let's go in." Comparing his place to a temple was his way of indicating that there is no sexual activity going on. However, the court officials wanted to send their daughters as kings’ wives for power and fortune because of the throne. Despite being surrounded by beautiful, aristocratic women, The King only adored one person - Nguyen Dac Vong - a guardian in the palace. Despite this, he still treats his wives very well. Kasidenh had only one son, Nguyen Phuc Vinh Thuy, who later became Emperor Bao Dai - The last emperor of Vietnam.


Love affair aside, Khai Dinh also had an extraordinary fashion style. In a sense, one could say that he was way ahead of his time, especially for one at a custom-heavy position as a king. Khai Dinh loved wearing makeup, a flashy dress, designing his clothes, and disobeying the royal dress code.

Another fun fact: Khai Dinh was the first of the Nguyen kings to go on a trip abroad. Marseille’s journey to France's second-largest city was to attend a colonial fake over 20, 1922.


Khai Dinh was also the one who made the decision to end Vietnam's last Confucian examination and paved the way for the modern Vietnamese language to take over the complicated, character-based writing system before. In 1918, Khai Dinh instructed to abolish these exams in Trung Ky, and in 1919 completely abolished Sino-Vietnamese-language schools, replaced by the French-Vietnamese school system.


The final resting place of Khai Dinh (Ung Mausoleum) is one of the most expensive constructions worksVietnam’sof Vietnam at that time. To have such a magnificent project, Khai Dinh asked the court to allow him to increase tax by 30% on the whole country and use that money to build this mausoleum.


Besides construction costs, the tomb of Khai Dinh also takes a long time to build. Khai Dinh’s reign was only nine years (1916-1925), but the grave of this King took 11 years to complete. In 1925, while the construction was still in progress, the King suddenly died of serious illness. And it took many years after the King died, the construction was actually completed. King Bao Dai is the successor to continue construction, and this is considered a work that lasted from father to son in history.


Sightseeing of Khai Dinh Mausoleum


The first architecture to meet the eyes is Ta Huu Tung Tu:


Here, Ta means left, Huu means right. "On the left and on the right" are two houses that have symmetrical architecture, for the officials to rest in and prepare for the court sessions to discuss the nation’s policies.


Passing Ta Huu Tung Tu, you will see Tam Quan Gate (or the Welcome gate):


Tam Quan gate is designed to have 37 steps leading to it, with four rows of giant dragon statues, exuding a majestic vibe. The pillars are made in the architectural style of towers influenced by Hinduism.


Past Tam Quan Gate, Bai Dinh courtyard is the place where the officials attend the court meetings of the Nguyen Dynasty. This marvellous courtyard contains many small architectural delicacies inside:


First, you will see the Stone Statues, each carrying different meanings. The stone statues here include animal statues (2 elephants, 2 horses), and statues of officials and guards (4 officials of literature, 4 generals, and 12 guards). The rulers of the Nguyen dynasty, of which Khai Dinh is no exception, built their tombs with Confucianism and Buddhism’s beliefs in mind. The tomb area was not only a place to bury the king, but also a place where He lives in the afterlife. During his lifetime, the King often used Elephants and Horses to travel. In the afterlife, the Elephants and the Horses will also follow the King, accompanying him to roam everywhere. At the same time, in the “underworld”, the King would also need servants. That's why the statues are very meticulously expressed, trimmed to each beard, hair, and serious postures as if they were living beings. Of course, that would not have been possible without the dedication and meticulousness of the sculptors.


Stone Statues

A far behind stand high Pillars, surpassing all the other structures of the Mausoleum and acting as a powerful spiritual symbol. Again, an idea most likely from Buddhism, the two pillars symbolize two candles illuminating the way for the King in the afterlife.


In the middle of the courtyard is the Khai Duc Than Cong stele, which is often written by a son about his father's merit according to Vietnamese culture. The epitaphs are usually written in Sino-Vietnamese characters. However, since he was sent to France to study by his father, Bao Dai is not as good at Sino-Vietnamese characters as French. Therefore, this article was written by a close official who helped express Bao Dai's feelings about his father. The essay describes all the architectural works built under this mausoleum complex, followed by Bao Dai’s commemoration of the personalities and the life of his royal father.


The Khai Duc Than Cong stele

Having explored outside the Mausoleum, let's go inside to the magnificent and elegant Thien Dinh Palace:


Thien means Sky or God; Dinh means the will of someone. Thien Dinh indicates the will of God, or predestined by heaven. The name which was meant to refer to the predetermination that this land is destined for King Khai Dinh. Palace Thien Dinh is where the king sleeps in peace, located at the highest position of the land, and also the most outstanding building. This is also the central piece of architecture in the complex, where many artistic talents are on show.


First of all, Khai Thanh Palace holds the altar of King Khai Dinh. The altar stone is made of concrete, and above it is a wooden panel titled "Dien Khai Thành". The portrait of the king is also placed here as a witness of time, telling the generations after how the King looked.


Khai Thanh Palace

Let's walk inside Khai Thanh Palace, where we will see the memorial of King Khai Dinh. Looking to the side, we can easily see Ta Huu Truc room. This is a place for guard soldiers - the bravest and elitist soldiers, who protect the tomb to help King Khai Dinh get a good night sleep without disturbance.


It can be said that Khai Dinh tomb is a monumental building with many small structures, designs and relics inside. The highest artistic value of the Mausoleum is the interior decoration of Thien Dinh palace. The three compartments of the palace are decorated with exhibits made of porcelain and stained glass. It is also the pinnacle of crockery and glass visual arts, which are all works of true artistic and architectural value.


Pictures of Porcelain and Enamel Pieces on the Wall

Aren’t you impressed with how filled the place is with pictures of porcelain and enamel pieces on the wall? At the tomb of Khai Dinh, besides ceramic materials, crockery, and porcelain available in the country, the king also collected many from China and Japan. In the process of decorating the Mausoleum, the king even smashed the beautiful and valuable antique jars into fragments and mosaic them on the wall. With skilful hands and creative minds, talented artisans created these “pottery paintings” depicting the natural landscape with the vibrant colours of the tropical country. The pottery makes the colors ever more luminous; the picture shines, quite literally, under the light. This makes Khai Dinh mausoleum's interior always bright against the color of time. The themes of the decoration are commonly found in traditional Vietnamese architecture, consisting of the four sacred mythical creatures: dragon, unicorn, turtle, and phoenix. Combining the art of the East and the West, Khai Dinh mausoleum is an art work of originality, holding a special position among the royal mausoleums. Khai Dinh tomb reflects the contemporary picture of the country. At the same time, it speaks lengths about the personality of the tomb owner - an open-minded king who welcomes creativity and foreign influences, yet still values the legacy of his own culture.



"Nine Dragons Lurking in the Clouds" Painting

Khai Dinh Tomb also contains a unique masterpiece, showing the talents of Vietnamese artisans in the past. Look up at the ceiling inside Khai Thanh Palace. You will see a huge painting in blue called “Cuu Long An Van”, or Nine Dragons Lurking in the Clouds, a mural by artisan Phan Van Tanh. In the painting, nine dragons are lurking in the clouds with different postures and shapes, extremely vivid colours representing the prosperous peace.


The story is that once King Khai Dinh came to see paintings, he saw Phan Van Tanh drawing dragons on paintings, but he used his feet instead of using his hands like normal people. When the king arrived, everyone stopped working to welcome the king, but Phan Van Tanh was still busy painting on the ceiling. Khai Dinh thought that he did not value the king, and even the dragon showed the king's power, which he used to draw his feet. The king was angry to call Phan Van Tanh down to ask for a crime.


When going down the ground, Tanh explained to the king:

"The reason I did not come down to welcome the king was that it took a lot of time that the work would not be completed as the king gave. I have to paint with my feet because if I drew paintings on the ceiling by hand, the distance from my hand to my eyes would be very close. If I wanted to see the perfect density of such a large picture, I would have to paint it with my feet. I must see from a far to see clearly."

After hearing the worker make such reasons, although angry, the king had no reason to blame, Khai Dinh turned to Tanh:

" If Vietnam has two Phan Van Tanh like you, I will behead you. "

Three paintings on the ceiling have never been remodelled but have remained the same as ever. However, it is strange that although the mausoleum was built more than over 90 years ago, no spider webs were clinging to the ceiling where the painting "Cuu long an van". Although in the other positions around the palace, there are many spider webs. Until now, people still have not explained why. Even the colour of this painting, or in the old days, what kind of chemicals did Phan Van Tanh use on paint to have no spider webs on the ceilings. Currently, this painting is still a mystery for art researchers because no answer has been found.


A little deeper into the mausoleum, one of the most impressive attractions for visitors is the real-size gold statue of the king below Buu Tan. The king's statue was cast in bronze by two French artisans when the king went to France. The statue was brought to Vietnam by ship, where Hue artisans plated it with gold. Gold-plating must go through 42 stages. That alone could show how valuable this work of art is. Despite the opposition of many people against the statue’s cost, the figure was finally completed in 1920. Standing here today, you have an opportunity to visualize the size and build of our eccentric king at the time.


The Real-size Gold Statue of The King below Buu Tan.

Behind the statue, the sun is setting, an indication of the passing of the king. Indeed, below this statue is where the king's body is buried.


Currently, 9m deep below from the statue is the burial place of the king. A unique feature of this structure is that above the king’s throne, a parasol (Also known as Buu Tan) is made from concrete yet looks very soft. How much would you guess is the weight of this parasol? The parasol’s lively details make it seem as if the wind blowing by can make the parasol shake, making it sometimes shocking to know that it weighs over a ton! Its designer is also Phan Van Tanh, who painted the picture "Cuu long an van.”


Take a tour around; you will be able to see the portraits of emperor Khai Dinh and the memorabilia of the king:


Khai Dinh is known as a king who loves to wear makeup and wear flashy clothes. The photographs of emperor Khai Dinh hung at Thien Dinh Palace are still preserved. The emperor had a slender figure with a small face, sophisticated makeup, applied lipstick, flashy clothes, six rings on his hand, and a headpiece with a conical hat.


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