Nam Giao Esplanade is situated in Hue City, Thua Thien Hue province. The Esplanade construction was commenced on 25th March, 1806. At the beginning of 1807, Gia Long terraces had its first God worship ceremonies there. The structure of the terraces also shows the misunderstanding deriving from old thoughts on the Universe of the prior times: circular heavens and square earth.

In the Nguyen dynasty, right after being crowned (1802), Emperor Gia Long built the terraces in An Ninh Village in 1803 to offer ceremonies to God. A few years after that, the terraces left that position and had new terraces built in Duong Xuan Village in the south of Hue Citadel (the remains are still preserved).

Nam Giao Esplanade faces south. Its surrounding stone wall has four big open doors looking at four directions. In front of each door, one very big screen (12.5m wide, 3.2m high, 0.8m thick) was erected. During the ceremony, big flags with different colours were on all these doors: black flags on the north door, blue on the east, red on the south and white on the west.

The sacrifice offering Esplanade was designed with three terraces, one on top of another symbolizing oriental theory of three agents: Heaven, Earth and Man. Each terrace had its own shape and colour: circular and blue heaven, square and yellow earth. The topmost is circular, and is called Vien Doanh, symbolizing Heaven. The surrounding parapet was painted blue. On the ceremony day, people built on this layer a conical tent with blue cloth called Thanh Oc. Right below is a square terrace called Phuong Dan, representing the Earth. The surrounding parapet is painted yellow. On the sacrifice offering day, a square house with yellow cloth roof smaller than the yellow tent was erected. The three layers are 4.65m high in total. Shapes colour and directions of the architecture of Nam Giao Esplanade were based on the principles of Yin and Yang and five basic elements (Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth).

From Gia Long’s time (1802-1819) the ceremony was organized in the first weeks or the first month in lunar calendar every year. Since 1890, for realizing that such a ceremony was too costly, the reign of Thanh Thai organized it once every three years: in the years of Rat, Cat, Horse and Rooster. It took the Protocol and Administration Ministries many months to prepare for the ceremony. For some days prior to the sacrifice offering day, all villages and commune in Thua Thien-Hue were ordered to complete making triumphal arches, to put altars on both sides of the route where the Emperor would pass by from Ngo Mon Gate to Trai Cung (Fasting Palace).

For each ceremony, the Emperor came to the Trai Cung to stay there for three days prior to ceremony. In Bao Dai’s time, the duration was reduced to one day. The Emperor came from the citadel to Trai Cung accompanying by a procession called Ngu Dao including from 1,000 to 5,000 people. The King sat on the sedan carried by royal soldiers in the middle path. When the Truong Tien Bridge had not been built yet – the procession crossed the Perfume River by Buoy Bridge made temporarily by boats.

The main Ceremony began officially at 2am and lasted nearly 3 hours. All the sacrifice offering terraces of the Ly, Tran, Le, Tay Son dynasties do not exist any more. Nam Giao esplanade of the Nguyen dynasty is the unique one left relatively undamaged. To visit it, tourists can have a chance to understand more about many aspects of the cultural and spiritual life of the Vietnamese feudalism.

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