Hien Lam Cac is an architectural monument located in the ancient imperial city of Hue. Built in 1821 and completed in 1822, its key function is to commemorate the highly-regarded Nguyen Emperors and the royal mandarins who had great devotion to Vietnam.
Due to its meaningful symbol and unique architecture, visiting Hien Lam Cac should be a must during your walk in Hue Imperial City.
What is special about Hien Lam Cac?
Meaning “Pavilion of Prominent Oversight“, Minh Mang initially built it as a memorial to his father Gia Long and the Nguyen Dynasty ancestors.
When approaching the building, you will see a tall pavilion with three-story at its high of 17 meter. This makes it the tallest building in the Imperial City.
This architecture of three-story has a meaning. They represent the three realms of Earth (ground floor), Humanity (middle floor) and Heaven (upper floor) which are linked though the person of Emperor alone.
Rectangular in shape, the ground floor purposely stands around a wooden frame, with a three-tiered tiled roof. Also, the structure of the Hien Lam Cac’s architecture is quite solid thanks to the sustaining of the 24 columns.
You can access both at the front and rear by a nine-step stair-way. The stone bannisters especially carved with imperial five-clawed dragon motif. As a matter of fact, they represent the Emperors themselves.
The central section of the stairway would have been exclusively for the emperor’s use. Nowadays, the access to the second floor is not possible. However, this wooden staircase stands as the most valuable works of art in Hien Lam Cac.
Finally, a motif of 3 compartments appear again in the second floor while the third floor comprises just one compartment.
At the center of the upper roof ridge, you’ll see a sign that says “Heavenly wine gourd” emerging from clouds. It represents the Absolute or Supreme Ultimate, the creator of Yin and Yang and the source of all things. This adds the artistic side to Hien Lam Cac, making it a charming pavilion from a far.
The Surrounding of Hien Lam Cac
Mandarin Worship Houses
If you enter the Hien Lac Cac (number 2 on the map) from the North side, there are two smaller buildings called, Ta Tung Tu and Huu Tung Tu. They are to worship the ancestral tablets of leading civil and military mandarins who had made merit in the service of the Nguyen Dynasty Emperors.
On the side of the Hien Lam Cac is a wall with two large three-entrance gates known as the Sung Cong Mon and Tuan Liet Mon. Both of them give access to the The To Temple front courtyard beyond. Here hosts a royal drum and a bell on its pavilions. Collectively, they represent the sacred guardians who protect this highly regarded monument.
The Dynasty Urns (Cuu Dinh)
One of the most highlighted things to see in Hue Imperial City is the Nine Dynasty Urns. Minh Mang ordered to cast in Phuong Duc between 1835 an 1839 with over 20 tons of bronze. Each urn symbolizes an emperor’s sovereignty. Collectively, the urns represents the power and the stability of the dynasty.
On a side note, it was Minh Mang’s idea to name each urn after the birth name of Emperor. And, where possible, placing in approximate alignment with the shrines of the Emperors worshiped in The To Temple.
The highest urn is Cao Dinh, in alignment with Gia Long Shrine, is in the center. The rest will follow the order of succession and the principle of “Ta Chieu Huu Muc” or “the left side takes precedence over the right”.
You will notice many images engraves on the side of each urn. Their motif ranges from the sun, moon, meteors, clouds, mountains and various Vietnamese famous landscapes. These sacred urns have been proudly described as the Vietnam encyclopaedia. Together, they stand for the greatest achievement of 19th century Vietnamese bronze-casting.
The Hien Lam Cac, Nine Dynasty Urns and The To Mieu are souls of Hue Imperial City. When visiting this place, you will learn a whole lot about Nguyen Artistic work and belief as well as many great stories of a lost Empire in Hue Ancient city.
Be sure to have a local Hue guide to make your walk in Hue Imperial City a fruitful one. If you wish to participate in comprehensive walking tour of Hue, book this highly-rated Hue Walk of Imperial City here.