Khai Dinh Tomb

Emperor Khải Định

Emperor Khải Định was born on November 8th 1885 as the son of Emperor Đồng Khánh. His actual birth name was Nguyễn Phúc Bửu Đảo and after the French exiled his predecessors, Emperor Thành Thái and Emperor Duy Tân, he was inaugurated as the new emperor. He worked closely together with the French colonial powers and was often criticised for that by the leaders of the Vietnamese resistance. Emperor Khải Định reigned only from 1916 to 1925 when he died in the Purple Forbidden City in Huế of tuberculosis.

Khải Định Tomb

The tomb is located eight kilometers south of Huế on the Chau Chu mountain. Emperor Khải Định ordered the building of a tomb that combines traditional Asian style elements with European architecture. Completing the tomb took 11 years from 1920 to 1931. During that time, the Emperor increased the taxes by 30 percent to fund the mausoleum, which drove his unpopularity with the Vietnamese people to a peak.

Since Emperor Khải Định died in 1925, the tomb has been completed by his successor Emperor Bảo Đại in 1931. He was the last emperor of Vietnam and the Nguyễn Dynasty. The building materials for the Emperor’s home in the other world are mostly concrete and wrought iron as widely used in the west. This choice influenced the appearance from the outside, which is grey and quite imposing.

The building as a whole reflects the Asian philosophy, including the traditional five elements to create a balance. The tomb is an emerging rectangular structure with 127 steps leaning against the mountain. The first 37 steps lead to the entrance gate of wrought iron. 29 more steps lead the the audience court with the stele made of reinforced concrete.

The surface area of the tomb is much smaller (117 meters long and 48,5 meters wide) than other mausoleums built by his predecessors, but the design is far more elaborate. The side walls are built in the likeness of dragons and it is said that they are the largest dragon sculptures in Vietnam. At least they used to be until the Dragon Bridge of Da Nang was constructed.

Twelve stone (a rare material in this tomb) statues depicting bodyguards, a giant concrete stele and an imperial audience court are presented at the mausoleum. Decorated with intricate glass and porcelain mosaics, partially in the traditional style of Huế, the Khai Thanh Palace is a great sight close to the top floor. Nine dragons decorate the ceiling of the palace. The book “Art Vietnamien” mentions Emperor Khai Dinh’s tomb as an example of Vietnamese Neo-Classicism.

The last room is the tomb itself, containing a statue of Emperor Khải Định that was cast in Marseilles, an altar in the tradition of ancestor worship and a temple with the grave. The statue depicting the Emperor on his throne was sculpted in 1920 by Ducuing and Barbedienne in Paris. However, the body of the Emperor is not resting in this tomb. A desecration of the dead body would bring great shame upon the country, so the Emperor is actually buried at a secret place, while the tomb and temple is a dwelling for the spirit.

The greatest surprise for visitors might be the fact that the dark grey outside of the monument reveals a vibrant and colourful interior. Another thing that will not escape the eye of the beholder is the stunning view over the hilly landscape of Central Vietnam.

Tourist information

It is easy to get there by bicycle (8km from Huế City) and you can see a good deal of the beautiful landscape surrounding Huế. If cycling is not your thing, you can get there by motorbike, taxi or with a guided tour.

The entrance fee for the tomb is 100.000đ, which is quite a lot but worth it if you are into heritage sites.

Please keep that in mind when entering Khải Định tomb: You are entering a gravesite, so behave with respect.

External sources and additional information