In 1826, the 7th year of Minh Mang emperor reign, he ordered all the mandarins who were skilled in geomancy to find good land for the construction his tomb. It was only in 1840 that he could select the most satisfactory site and design for Minh Mang emperor as we see today. Mandarin Le Van Duc found the suitable site and was promoted two ranks.
In April 1840, Minh Mang emperor visited the site and gave the mountainous area of Cam Ke the new name of Hieu Son. He then ordered two high- ran emperor mandarins: Truong Dang Que and Bui Cong Huyen, to take a unit of the Royal Engineers to the site to make a survey. They drew a topographical map of the mountains, hills, rivers. and streams. In addition, they also made a full design of the tomb, which included an outer rampart, the Emperor’s tomb, temples, pavilions, halls, monasteries, bridges and artificial lakes. The Emperor was fully satisfied with the layout and design and rewarded them with money and cloth.
Read more: Story of Minh Mang Emperor
In September 1840, the Court mobilized 3000 soldiers and building workers to level the ground and build the outer rampart. The two high-ranemperor mandarins Truong Dang Que and Ha Duy Phien took turns supervising the construction. On 20 Jan 1841, the emperor died. He was only 50 years old at the time of his death.
A month later, the construction was resumed by order of Emperor Thieu Tri. The high-ranemperor mandarins Ta Quang Cu, Ha Duy Phien, Nguyen Huu Le, Nguyen Tri Phuong and Ton That Duong were assigned to take charge. The Court mobilized nearly 10000 soldiers and building workers from the Ministries of Military Affairs and Public Works for the construction. Only the soldiers were allowed to take leave, every two months and in turn.
The speed of construction was maintained and the Emperor’s coffin was buried on August 20, 1841. The stone stele “The Merits of the Emperor” was set up on 25 Jan 1842. However, it was not until 1943 that the Minh Mang tomb was completed according to the original design.
The Minh Mang Tomb is a large-scale architectural complex. It encompasses about 40 structures of different sizes in an airy and cool area with mountains, hills, rivers, and lakes. Geomancy Le Van Duc was right to choose is site for the construction of the tomb, since it is not only in conformity with fengshui principles but also in harmony with the surrounding landscape. The entire tomb looks like a human body with the head supported by a high hill, and the four limbs stretching towards a nearby confluence.
The tomb is a complex of great length: the distance from Dai Hong Gate to the farthermost point of the outer rampart is 700 meters. The rampart is high, but it does not restrict the visibility of the outer landscape from the inner tomb. Loo emperor southwards from Huu Bat Bridge, one sees an image like a water-color painting of mountains and trees reflected in Trung Minh Lake.
Inside the rampart, the architectural structures are arranged systematically on a single axis, and in a strict order. This layout reflects the situation of contemporary society, organized in accordance with the centralist policy of the monarchical regime that fully venerated Confucianism. It also reveals the emperor’s personality and style. The Minh Mang Tomb is built in the round, symbolizing that the Emperor is the sun, or the Supreme Being who has the power to control society.
The architectural structures in the front section of the tomb are broadly spaced. However, as one penetrates to the interior, they become more closely. In this” design, the architects of the time merged three horizontal sections of the Gia Long Tomb into one and arranged them along a single axis. They also cleverly took advantage of the site topography, using the hills to raise the levels of the architectural structures. Simultaneously, they skillfully excavated lakes as the low notes in a piece of music, full of melody and rhythm, creating a balanced composition of architecture and nature inside the tomb. The wooden doors at Hien Duc Gate, Hoang Trach Gate, and Minh Pavilion spring surprises on visitors whenever they are opened. The architecture, landscape, and the elevation of the central axis of the tomb keep changing with each step taken by the visitor.
The natural setting, is exploited and adjusted to provide the background for the architectural structures in the Minh Mang Tomb. This contributes many charming features to the design, along with its outstanding symmetry and solemnity. Masters of architecture nowadays cannot help admiring their predecessors for their excellent skills in plastic arts as revealed in this tomb.