The historic city of Huế is a must-see destination and is usually included on most travelers’ itineraries. This small city is located on the Perfume River, 64 miles (102 km) north of Đà Nẵng, where it can be reached by train in roughly two and a half hours.
In 1802 the feudal lord Nguyễn Phúc Ánh consolidated power and unified Vietnam. Phúc Ánh, who would later take the title Emperor Gia Long, made Huế Vietnam’s capital. Known as the “Imperial City”, Huế would remain Vietnam’s center of politics, religion and culture until 1945.
Under the direction of Emperor Gia Long, thousands of workers began constructing the famous citadel of Huế in 1804. The term citadel refers to the six miles (10km) of high walls, ramparts and moats built as a fortress to protect the palaces within. At the center of the citadel is another series of walls surrounding an area known as the Forbidden Purple City. Like the Forbidden City in Beijing, this area would have been home to the Emperor, family and staff and strictly off limits to the common people.
Because of its proximity to the 17th parallel, the dividing line between North and South Vietnam, Huế was of great strategic importance to the North Vietnamese and their allies.
On January 30, 1968 the North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong launched the military operation which would be known as the Tet Offensive. Tet, the Vietnamese lunar New Year, had traditionally been a time when both sides put down their weapons and returned home to be with their families. For the South Vietnamese troops Tet 1968 was not an exception and most soldiers left the cities to return to the villages. The North Vietnamese seized this opportunity and simultaneously attacked major cities and bases throughout South Vietnam. Huế’s defenders were initially caught off guard, and the North Vietnamese easily overran the city. It would take over a month for U.S. and South Vietnamese forces to turn the tide and secure Huế, marking this as one the most deadly battles of the War.
Today the citadel, the remains of the royal palaces, temples, tombs and various associated structures make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as “The Complex of Huế Monuments”. Much of the site has been badly damaged and some parts are in ruins as a mostly as a result of war. Much of the fighting during the battle of Huế was fought in and around the citadel. However, restoration work has been completed on the major monuments so there is still plenty to see.