Gia Long tomb is known as Thien Tho Lang. About 15 km from Truong Tien Bridge, Hue City. The tomb was built for Gia Long – 1st king of the Nguyen Dynasty (1762 – 1820)
Gia Long King (reign 1802–1804) born Nguyễn Phúc Ánh or Nguyễn Ánh, was the founding emperor of the Nguyễn dynasty, the last dynasty of Vietnam. His dynasty would rule the unified territories that constitute modern-day Vietnam until 1945. You can read more about Gia Long King on Wikipedia
The History and Architecture of Gia Long Tomb
Description of Gia Long Tomb Complex
The so-called Gia Long Tomb has a complicated history of construction because in fact, it is a complex of tombs that includes not only the tomb of Emperor Gia Long but also the tombs of other members of royalty. The complex covers a large area in Dinh Mon Village; tombs were added at different times over a period of two centuries (17-19 century).
- Construction history of the complex
The construction of Thien Tho Lang, where Gia Long King and his wife are buried, lasted many years under the reign of three Nguyễn Kings, from King Gia Long to King Thieu Tri.
In 1814, after Queen Thira Thien Cao died, the King and Royal Court discussed the construction of the twin tombs where, according to tradition, he and his wife would be buried. Officials were appointed in various roles: Lê Duy Thanh (Lê Quy Dôn’s son) was in charge of the land; Tong Phúc Luong and Pham Nhu Dang were in charge of the construction.
The work started on May 11, 1814. The construction initially involved 547 soldiers from three military units in the Hue Ancient Capital. Later, the Court mobilized skilled building workers from different localities.
After suitable land for the tomb was found, the Emperor frequently visited the area and supervise the construction. He gave the mountainous area the name Thien Tho Son and allotted each of the 42 hills and mountains of different altitudes within the area an individual name. The Minh Thanh Temple, as well as most of the temple section in the Tomb, was completed in 1815. The work of building the main structures of the Tomb lasted for six years, from 1814 to 1820. Some other structures were completed later.
Significance of the location and landscape
There are two rows of stone statues of mandarins, horses, and elephants at the Bai Dinh courtyard in front of the Palace, where mandarins stood during a court audience, were not completed until April 1833. The two doors of the portal gate at Biu Thanh were first of wood; but in 1845, during King Thieu Tri’s reign, they were replaced by doors of bronze. Although the Minh Thank Temple underwent many big restorations in 1922 during the reign of King Thieu Tri, as well as some others later, it remained in a state of total collapse, due to time and war. However, it has been fully repaired now.
The architecture of Gia Long Tomb
- A blend of architectural design and nature
Of the seven Royal tombs, the Gia Long Tomb is the farthest from the Hué Ancient Capital. However, it is the most imposing in terms of the natural landscape
Looking around from the center of the Tomb, a person will easily feel small in the midst of an area of mountains and hills that seem to extend endlessly. The choice of the landscape here shows the King’s zeal for embracing the whole country in his arms. It should be mentioned that the King had struggled on the battlefield for a quarter of a century before finally unifying the country and becoming the first King of the Nguyễn Dynasty.
- Absence of pavilions, palaces, or ramparts
The architects of the time managed to impose control over nature and force the surrounding landscape to comply with human intentions by creating architectural structures which were artistic and appropriate, but modest in scale.
The whole complex is a skillful blend of architectural design and nature: it represents the traditional art of Vietnamese architecture, praised by many experts in the fine arts.
- Simple stone tombs of the Emperor and his wife positioned close to each other
The Gia Long Tomb is imposing but simple, like its master’s life. Its structures are artistically dispersed across a spacious horizontal plane. It has no pavilions, palaces, or ramparts: the surrounding mountains and hills serve as its natural defense. The stone tombs of the King and his wife are the simplest structures and are positioned parallel and close to each other. They are of the same size and roofed in the same style, and both are dyed black by time. They have neither carvings nor colors but are made of smooth, plain slabs of stone fitted together, creating a silent and solemn atmosphere in this solitary place.
However, the close proximity of the two tombs manifests the loyalty and strong attachment between the King and his wife, who together had experienced the vagaries of time and fate during the King’s life as a warrior, making the Gia Long Tomb different from the other Royal tombs in Hue.
- Minh Thanh Temple
The Minh Thanh Temple, the main structure of the tomb section of the Gia Long Tomb, is dedicated to the worship of the King and his wife. It is decorated with neither flowery nor sophisticated patterns. Instead, it is decorated with simple but solid carvings on its sides.
The decorative panels inside the temple feature the carved Tho character (longevity), surrounded by stylized leaf patterns. Noticeably, all the dragon statues found in the Tomb and courtyards, as well as on the flights of steps, are formed of bricks and lime, not made of stone as in the other Tombs. The stone stele The Merits of the King’ is not very big, but it is beautifully decorated with supple and sophisticated characters and patterns.
The architectural structures under King Gia Long’s reign in general, as well as the Gia Long Tomb in particular, reveal that the first King of the Nguyễn Dynasty was not only good at fighting and reorganizing the country but also talented in the art of architecture.
Influence of Gia Long Tomb
- The first model for Royal Tombs in Hue
The Gia Long Tomb was the first model for a Tomb in Hue and was later used as a reference by the following emperors when building their own Tombs. It contributes to expressing the style of an emperor who founded the Nguyen dynasty.
- Used as a reference by following emperors when building their own Tombs
Expresses Minh Thanh temple – the style of an emperor who founded the Nguyen dynasty
Gia Long Tomb, surrounded by a huge park, gives an impression of strength and serenity.
How to get to Gia Long tomb?
There are 3 ways to go to Gia Long Tomb, which is really a remote spot, even for local people.
- By boat along Perfume River: One is traveling by boat along Perfume River, which can be taken at the wharf at Toa Kham boat station. The boat trip is really worth a try since it provides a unique chance to capture the scenic landscape of the upstream Perfume River.
- By car, through Minh Mang tomb, and over the new bridge: The other method is to go 15 km by car. You go to Minh Mang tomb (10 km from the city center) and through the new bridge, from there, go straight to Gia Long tomb. It takes 5 km.
- Many companies offer Hue city tours with visiting Royal tombs but Gia Long tomb is not listed on the tour. You can make a tailored tour or book a private car with Hura Car to visit Gia Long tomb
Google Map to Gia Long tomb
The entrance ticket for Gia Long tomb is 100.000 vnd/ adults and Free for children (update Mar 2023). You can see the entrance ticket for the Hue monument here: Hue entrance tickets 2023
If you have time 2-3 days in Hue City, beside Minh Mang tomb, Khai Dinh tomb, Tu Duc tomb, and Hue Citadel. You should buy a combo ticket to visit all sites in Hue with a good deal: 580.000/ adult or 110.000 vnd/ children.