The tomb of King Khai Dinh - the unique cross-cultural architecture in Hue

The tomb of King Khai Dinh - the unique cross-cultural architecture in Hue

Thua Thien Hue 15.10.2021

Khai Dinh is a Vietnamese king with many modern ideas influenced by foreign countries, therefore, when building the mausoleum, he utilised the architecture from those cultures. Khai Dinh Tomb is considered the most prominent mausoleum of all the royal tombs of the Nguyen Dynasty.

Translated by nguyendo

Written by thyltp

Who is King Khai Dinh?

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A portrait of King Khai Dinh. Photo: baomoi

King Khai Dinh's real name is Nguyen Phuc Buu Dao, who was the eldest son of King Dong Khanh and the 12th king of the Nguyen Dynasty. During his lifetime, King Khai Dinh was famous for being lavish and crazy about playing and gambling, he was especially passionate about building mansions, mausoleums, and palaces for himself and his royal family. He left his descendants many prominent works such as Chuong Duc gate, Hien Nhon gate, Anh Dinh palace and Kien Trung palace.

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King Khai Dinh's mausoleum is like an ancient castle in the middle of a pine forest. Photo: vntrip.vn

Khai Dinh Tomb, which is also known as Ung Lang, is located in Thuy Bang Commune, Huong Thuy Town. This mausoleum was built as the final resting place of King Khai Dinh. Notably, the mausoleum was completed after 11 years from 1920 to 1931, during two reigns  of King Khai Dinh and his son (King Bao Dai). Although this mausoleum has the smallest area among the works in Hue, it is considered the most sophisticated and modern work with the longest construction time and the highest cost.

Exploring the inside of Khai Dinh Tomb

Khai Dinh Tomb is located on the mountainside of Chau Chu Mountain in the middle of a pine forest, making it more ancient and majestic like a castle. The mausoleum has a prime location (according to feng shui) as there is a low hill in front of it, two mountains of Chop Vung and Kim Son on two sides (compared as Azure Dragon and White Tiger of the Four Celestial Animals), and the Chau E stream flowing from the left to the right side. When building the tomb, King Khai Dinh decided to change the name of “Chau Chu” mountain to “Ung Son” and then named his mausoleum after the mountain's name (Ung Lang).

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The tomb of King Khai Dinh seen from above. Photo: Vnexpress

Overall, Khai Dinh Tomb has a rectangular architecture with 127 steps and some prominent works such as Tam Quan gate, Nghi Mon and Thien Dinh Palace. Unlike other mausoleums in Hue, the campus of Khai Dinh Tomb does not have any lake or flower garden, but it is rather a massive work mainly made of stone.

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Khai Dinh Tomb has a cross-cultural architecture. Photo: luhanhvietnam.com.vn

The mausoleum's architecture is a combination between different cultures such as the tower-shaped gate of Hinduism, the stupa-shaped pillar of Buddhism, and the high arch with wide gate and octagonal pillars of Roman Gothic. At the same time, the materials used to build the mausoleum are very “modern”, such as iron, steel, ardoise tiles and cement imported from France. Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to say that this is a work of high artistic and architectural value among mausoleums in Hue.

Tam Quan Gate (Three-door Gate)

While the Tam Quan gate of Minh Mang Tomb has a small scale with highlights of various colours, the one in Khai Dinh Tomb is much more massive with meticulously carved patterns. In particular, the image of “Luong Long Chau Thai Cuc” (two dragons adoring an ancient symbol) on the three-door gate is a familiar symbol in ancient works. In addition, this gate is built on high ground as you have to pass 37 steps to reach the first floor of the mausoleum. The gate consists of two parts, namely Ta Tong Tu and Huu Tong Tu, which are to worship the mandarins who made great contributions to the development of the country.

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The massive three-door gate of Khai Dinh Tomb. Photo: Hue Tourism

Nghi Mon and Bai Dinh courtyard

From the three-door gate, go further 29 steps and you will see Nghi Mon and Bai Dinh courtyard with two rows of statues, including both civil and military mandarins. During the reign of King Khai Dinh, the Hue dynasty had no conflict with the French, so the country was relatively peaceful, which led to the fact that the civil mandarins were appreciated more. Therefore, the statues of civil mandarin in Bai Dinh are placed in front of the military mandarins. Notably, all statues of mandarins, elephants, horses and even the courtyard are made of precious stones with the same proportions as those in real life.

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The courtyard has become the symbol of Khai Dinh Tomb. Photo: zing.vn

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Nghi Mon and Bai Dinh courtyard seen from another angle. Photo: wiki.youvivu

Thien Dinh Palace

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The facade of Thien Dinh Palace. Photo: huesmiletravel

Regarding the royal mausoleum architecture, it is usually composed of two parts, namely “lang” and “tam” - the former part is the place to bury the king and the latter part is the place to worship him. While in the mausoleum of Minh Mang, these two parts are located on a vertical axis, in the tomb of King Khai Dinh, they are interlocked and called “Thien Dinh palace”. In other words, this is both a burial place and a place to worship the king. Thien Dinh Palace is located on the highest position, and - at the same time - is the main and most prominent architecture of the mausoleum. The palace consists of the following works: Ta/Huu Truc compartments on both sides (the rooms for soldiers guarding the mausoleum), Khai Thanh palace (where the altar and portrait of the king is placed), Buu An (in the middle), the king's statue and the grave (at the bottom), and the altar with the spirit tablet of King Khai Dinh (in the innermost).

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The space inside Thien Dinh Palace. Photo: wiki.youvivu

Thien Dinh Palace is rectangular-shaped with a marble floor. The highlight of the palace is that the entire interior is decorated with embossments made of porcelain and glass imported from China and Japan, which shows the innovation in King Khai Dinh's ideas of building the mausoleum.

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The interior is inlaid with porcelain and colourful glasses imported from China and Japan. Photo: thanhnienmoi

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The patterns are meticulously carved. Photo: thanhnienmoi

On the ceiling of Thien Dinh Palace is a painting "Cuu Long An Van" (nine dragons hidden in the clouds) painted over five years by an artist named Phan Van Tach. Since its formation until now, this painting has remained unchanged in terms of colours and shape.

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The embossments that impress every visitor. Photo: thanhnienmoi

The highlights in Thien Dinh Palace are two bronze statues of King Khai Dinh. It is noted that the outer statue is the image of the king wearing a French soldier's uniform cast in Vietnam, and this is a valuable artifact that helps posterity to partly visualise the appearance of the king in his lifetime.

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The statue of the king wearing a French soldier's uniform cast in Vietnam. Photo: vietnamtorism.vn

The remaining bronze statue, which is placed on an altar, was cast in France by two French artisans and gilded by artisans in Hue. The altar of King Khai Dinh is not painted or gilded as usual, but is made of reinforced concrete while its four sides are inlaid with porcelain with the theme of Tu Tuong (Four Symbols - Dragon, Unicorn, Turtle, Phoenix). Above the altar is a horizontal lacquered board titled "Khai Thanh Dien". Notably, above the bronze statue, there is a Buu Tan (the throne cover) weighing up to one ton, which is sophisticatedly carved as if made of velvet. Behind the statue is a sunset image with the meaning that “the sun sets today and  will rise in the following day - and a new king will be born”. Under this altar is the burial place of King Khai Dinh.

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The statue of King Khai Dinh was cast in France and gilded by Hue artisans. Photo: wiki.youvivu

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King Khai Dinh's altar was made of modern reinforced concrete without traditional gilding. Photo: blog.traveloka

Some notes when visiting Khai Dinh Tomb

Instructions to get to Khai Dinh Tomb

The mausoleum is 10km from the center of Hue city, so if you ride a motorbike, you can follow Highway 49. Otherwise, you can take a bus from the Southern Bus Station to Dong Ba - Cho Tuan as there is a stop at Khai Dinh Tomb on its route.

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Directions from Hue city to Khai Dinh mausoleum. Photo: Google Map

Opening hours and entrance ticket

Hue is most beautiful from January to February when the weather is pleasant and suitable for sightseeing. Please note that the opening hours of the mausoleum vary from season to season as follows:

+ Summer: 6:00am - 5:30pm

+ Winter: 6:30am - 5:00pm

Entrance ticket price in 2020: VND 100,000/adult, VND 20,000/child

Regardless of the small scale of the tomb of King Khai Dinh, it is the work with the most modern and unique architecture among the mausoleums in Hue. When coming here, you will have memorable experiences and be able to learn about the mausoleum which is considered the most splendid and magnificent in the area.