Thai Hoa palace - Land of Dragons

Curated by BuffaloTripApril 21, 2015 Viewed: 2193

Among tens of palaces in the Imperial Citadel (also known as Dai Noi) – Hue citadels, Thai Hoa is the largest and most beautiful palace with the most luxurious position. If Ngo Mon (Southern gate) is considered as the face, Thai Hoa palace is the heart of the Imperial citadel because it is where the throne – the symbol of power of the Feudal was put. Thai Hoa palace is also the land of dragons.

See more Hue travel guide at here.

Historical vestiges of the Nguyen dynasty

Situated behind Ngo Mon – the entrance of the Imperial citadel, Thai Hoa palace (Throne Palace, Supreme Harmony or Dien Thai Hoa) is prominent in a large space of the citadel. Thai Hoa palace was constructed and designed by designers of the Nguyen dynasty when Phu Xuan imperial city was built at the beginning of the 19th century. It is one of the most ancient and significant architecture in Hue in many fields: position, function, architectural and artistic values and historical, cultural values…

In 1802, Tay Son dynasty (1778 – 1802) was defeated and Nguyen Anh Gia Long took the throne and founded the Nguyen dynasty – the last Feudal dynasty of Vietnam. Gia Long conquered Phu Xuan (Hue) and started to construct the imperial city. Thai Hoa Palace was constructed in 1805 in the method of architectural plans made for building up the other structures like palaces, shrines and mausoleums in the imperial city of Hue and completed in1832 under the reign of King Minh Mang. However, many other articles of the city were definitely finished in other reigns of the Nguyen dynasty. For its important role and function,Thai Hoa palace was built at the same time with the construction of the imperial city. After Gia Long enthroned in this palace, Thai Hoa became a meaningful place with the origin of the Nguyen dynasty. As a general rule, the enthronements of other Kings were taken place in this palace.

Since then, Thai Hoa Palace is used for significant court rituals such as anniversaries and coronations. It is also an important place to welcome ambassadors of other countries or celebrate diplomatic rituals…Most of significant events of the royal family, royal dynasty and the country are originated from this palace. For more than 200 years, Thai Hoa palace is a historical witness of numerous events, both glory and failure of Vietnam during 13 reigns of the Nguyen dynasty from Gia Long – the founder of the dynasty, to Bao Dai – the last king.

Thai Hoa Palace is used for significant court rituals such as anniversaries and coronations. It is also an important place to welcome ambassadors of other countries or celebrate diplomatic rituals…

Pinnacle of court architecture

From Ngo Mon – the main entrance of the imperial city in the South, passing through Trung Dao bridge over Thai Dich lake and 3 yards of Dai Trieu general courts, you will arrive in Thai Hoa palace. This is the first work of the imperial city in term of position. Thai Hoa palace has been changed, repaired and improved as follows:

In Gia Long’s reign (1802 – 1819): Thai Hoa palace was built and become a crucial architecture of the imperial city. The primary position of Thai Hoa palace was planned in Dai Cung Mon (main entrance to Purple Forbidden City), about 50 meters from present Thai Hoa palace in the North and on the main path of the imperial city.

In Minh Mang’s reign (1802 – 1840): In 1833, While architectures in the Imperial citedal and Purple Forbidden City were upgraded, Thai Hoa palace was “moved to the South in a large space” (according to Royal annals of Dai Nam – history book of the Nguyen dynasty). Apart from different position, Thai Hoa palace was repaired and upgraded its size.

In Thanh Thai’s reign (1889 – 1907): In 1891, the palace was retored and in 1899, it was tiled flowered enemelled floor, which replaced for Bat Trang’s tiles.

In Khai Dinh’s reign (1916 – 1925): In 1923, Thai Hoa palace was remarkably repaired to prepare for the King’s longevity anniversary in the following year (1924). Many structures of the palace were changed and renewed, including two lines of glassy doors (new materials imported from Europe) in front and behind the palace; a large, round window with the word “Tho” (Longevity); two lean-tos in front; gilted parasols and red lacquer trimmed with gold of all wooden interiors.

In Bao Dai’s reign (1926 – 1945): the palace was also restored and after the decline of the Feudal regime (1945), this architecture and the surrounding system of yard and garden were repaired in 1960, 1970, 1973, 1981, 1985 and 1992…

Although Thai Hoa palace has been changed for many times, it also remains its design, structure and form, especially, its décors. In general, large-scale architectures in the North are often built in structures of yi (__), er (二), san (三) or “gong” (工), “ding” (丁) and “gong inside and guo outside” (工 inside and 囗 outside) because of its wooden materials. Thai Hoa palace was built in “trung thiem trung luong” style, which is a  particular design in Phu Xuan at that time. That is the combination of two houses on a foundation to create a large, uninterrupted space. Front and back houses feature 7 compartments and two lean-tos, 7 pillars, in which there is a same pillar for two houses. The front house (front palace) has 3 pillars while the back (main palace) has a higher roof with 5 pillars. Two lean-tos were covered with bricks and compartments were separated by wooden bulkheads.

The front and back houses of Thai Hoa palace are built on a foundation with the support of the same pillar, which prop up a system of ceiling. Above this system is a bronze water trough to get rain water from the back roof to front roof. Water flow in the bronze trough to two gables and out of two water ways, which are shaped in dragon’s mouth.

Girders of the front house were designed in “Chong ruong – gia thu” architecture (girders are overlapped) with sophisticated structure an carving in order to not only prop up the roof but also contribute to bring about aesthetic values of the interiors. The back girders were covered by gilded wooden ceiling (except for the last pillar by the back door). This ceiling was to enlarge the front space with refined girder system and to create a suitable space to put the throne and decorate for the palace.

The roof of the palace was separated into three floors to make the architecture more elegant and gentle. This was also a skill of architects in the Nguyen dynasty. The highest (in both front and back houses) is the upper floor with front and back sides; then comes to the lower one with 4 sides directing to four directions and the last one is eaves with one side and only expands in 7 middle compartments. In the past, Thai Hoa palace was roofed tubular tiles but until now, some roofs have been changed in other tiles. The space between the upper floor and the lower one are small cases, decorated with patterns and poems. Each of two neighbouring cases is written a poem and the other is painted the same patterns. This extraordinary décor is called “nhat thi nhat hoa” (one painting, one poem) and found in interiors of the palace.

Interiors of Thai Hoa palace have them all gilded. The throne is put on a three-step platform in the main compartment. Behind the throne is a wall with doors in the middle and on two sides.

As many architectures in Hue citadel, Thai Hoa palace is imposing for its architecture and bright for its look. It is the combination of graphic elements: rate, rhythm, solid and empty and contrast…along with colors, décor, and in the relation with exteriors, green trees and nature.

Thai Hoa palace is a typical architecture of court architecture in general and palaces of the Imperial citadel as well. The palace is the meet of all quintesscences of architecture, decoration and constructive techniques of the Nguyen dynasty to create a particular character for the ancient citadel. Thai Hoa palace is regarded as the pinnacle of Hue’s court architecture.

Land of dragons

Thai Hoa is the main palace of the imperial citadel, where the throne is dominated and to manifest the power of emperors. Apart from its great size, opulent design and refined decoration, dragon – symbol of the emperor – is the main decoration in the palace.

Images of dragon is decorated in many positions and materials with different postures, shapes and angles. Dragons are carved on handrails and stone steps from Dai Trieu yard to the veranda floor. Outside the palace, dragons tie round pillars and are stylized on wooden girders. They also appear on roofs and edges with the art of porcelain carving, which is specialized in Hue’s court architecture. Two water-exiting doors are built in dragon’s open mouths. Skillful patterns of dragon, which are brilliant, on the roofs manifest the talent of designers and artisans in the Nguyen dynasty. They elevate values of roofs and the whole architecture with its exquisite figure.

Thai Hoa is the main palace of the imperial citadel, where the throne is dominated and to manifest the power of emperors. Apart from its great size, opulent design and refined decoration, dragon – symbol of the emperor – is the main decoration in the palace.

Interiors are also decorated with dragons. 80 iron-wooden pillars in the palace are gilded with images of dragon on waves. In addition, dragons are seen around the plate “Thai Hoa palace”, on cases behind the throne and on the throne as well. The throne – the most important and sacred position – is decorated with numerous dragons in four sides. Dragons are found on the doors behind the throne…

Thai Hoa palace is considered as the land of dragons. This is a part of Hue imperial city and other vestiges in the community of Hue ancient citadel’s heritages, which was recognized as World Heritage in 1993.


Text and photos by Ha Thanh,

See more Hue travel guide at here.