The Nine Dynastic Urns, built in late 1835 and completed in early 1837, was recognised as a national treasure in 2012, and considered the most valuable bronze objects in Vietnam.
Comparative cultural studies in Japan, China, and the Republic of Korea showed that the set of tripod urns currently displayed in the Hue Citadel is the only existing ones of their type.
The intact urns are horizontally placed at the yard of the Hue Imperial Citadel (Dai Noi)’s The To Mieu (To Mieu Temple), a place to worship the kings of the Nguyen Dynasty – the last feudal regime which ruled Vietnam from 1802 to 1945.
All cast in bronze, they represent the unity and the beauty of the country as well as sustainable existence of the Nguyen Dynasty.
Also outstanding symbols of the country’s immortal reign and wealth, the urns were built in late 1835 and completed in early 1837, under the reign of King Minh Mang.
The tallest urn is 2.5 meters high versus the shortest at 2.3 meters high. Each one, weighing up to 2,600 kg, has a name symbolising an emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty. The central one is dedicated to King Gia Long.
Their craftsmanship is remarkable, making the symbolism of power, stability, and continuity even stronger.
The urns can also be considered a “geographic encyclopedia” of Vietnam in the 19th century with 162 carved patterns exquisitely embossed on their surface depicting popular landscapes like universe, rivers, mountains; daily activities across the country; and 90 images of typical plants and animals. These create a great combination between carving and bronze casting. Until now, all of them are still in their original position and remain intact.
Of note, the country’s sea and islands were carved on the three largest and most significant urns. The East Sea is depicted on the “Cao Urn”, the one positioned in the very middle and higher than the others, which is dedicated to King Gia Long, the first of Nguyen Dynasty. The southern sea appeared on the Nhan Urn, and the western sea on the Chuong Urn.
Alongside various ancient documents, the patterns on the urns serve as a valuable historical source affirming Vietnam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly).
According to experts, the urns were cast by the best craftsmen at the time. Their molds were destroyed upon the completion to avoid counterfeits, making them the only ones of their kind.
The Hue Monuments Conservation Centre is confident that the aforementioned factors qualify these urns as world documentary heritage in accordance with the criteria set by the UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme.
In addition to the Nine Dynastic Urns, the Imperial Citadel of Hue boasts many other ancient works and items under the Nguyen Dynasty.
Among those, the woodblocks used to print books in Han characters, or adapted Chinese characters, were recognised as part of the world’s documentary heritage by UNESCO in 2009, and the imperial records and the literature on the royal architecture were acknowledged with a similar title by the Memory of the World Committee for Asia and the Pacific in 2014 and 2016, respectively.