Activating the Citadel of Hue

By Teresa Lever

In an urban planning context, site activation most often consists of the application of quite simple placemaking principles and the odd event driven by community involvement to create a ‘sense of place’ in which people are drawn for the purposes of recreation, social and commercial interactions through specific interventions. So, when asked to consider the activation of sites within UNESCO World Heritage site of the Citadel of Hue I felt that this model maybe insufficient. The Citadel of Hue is not an underutilised suburban park or neglected city laneway; it is a site of significant cultural significance and the Imperial City is an internationally renowned tourist attraction. It was a privilege to be invited to work on such a project, but necessary to for the site to be treated with the utmost cultural sensitivity. I feared that suggested interventions such as seating, constructed pathways or clustered commercial operations maybe too simplistic for a site of this historic magnitude. Initial reading outlined some of the local complexities such as the relocation of residents, pollution and flooding, also the devasting damage after years of war. However, on-the-ground research enabled me to explore, but more importantly challenge my bias and motivate me to contribute to a meaningful and practical outcome. This paper explores three identified themes consisting of tourism development, local identity and use of space, influenced by readings and practical undertaking by Australian and Vietnamese university students from the University of South Australia and the Hue University of Sciences. Firstly, I need to acknowledge the contribution of these (Australian and Vietnamese students) that I had the privilege to work with on this project as they provided a Vietnamese perspective to balance the western lens, introduced frameworks such as urban acupuncture, and reminded me that some of the best ideas are simple interventions regardless of the nature or stature of the site.


Attempting to understand the tourism market in Hue.

A group of 20 Australian tourists wandering the Citadel in the midday sun was possibly a source of bemusement to locals and
the packaged tour groups from China and Korea travelling in electric minibuses into the Imperial City Forecourt for their cultural experience of Hue. Whilst these tourism groups are vastly different in their preferences of modes of transport and level of service expectation, one common factor in visitation to Hue stems from the intention to participate in a cultural experience. But, how to expand on that experience and activate ‘place’ involves a better understanding our who are the visitors to Hue.

According to (Nguyen and Chang 2014), visitation to Hue has expanded from 8000 arrivals in 1990 to 1.5 million in 2010. Rofe et al. (2017), state Hue received 1.2M visitors in 2014 with the majority of international tourists from Europe and the Asia pacific region with cultural heritage the primary draw card. However, with the majority of visitors on packaged tours the length of stay of two days remains relatively unchanged. McKercher (cited in Nguyen and Chang 2014) poses a model in which cultural tourism is divided into five classifications in which the packaged sightseeing tour is most likely to have a superficial and entertainment orientated experience. Whereas, the serendipitous cultural tourist is more likely to have a more immersed experience.

It is the latter that provides more opportunity for tourism development, specifically for extending lengths of stay and supporting the proposed UNESCO model of Sustainable tourism development (UNESCO 2014).

It is this model that proposes local community engagement to empower and engage in site conservation, supported by findings of work undertaken by Group 2 in 2017 (Economic, development, tourism and heritage) that indicated anecdotal support for the tourism industry by the local community, especially if it helped to beautify the citadel and improve infrastructure for walking. Also, Ngo Quang Duc & Phan Thuy Van (2017, p.79) state ‘…it is important to rebuild the general landscape environment so that the lakes in the Capital City are not only water reservoirs but also green, clean and beautiful parks with cultural and historical significance for the people to enjoy.

The challenge for developing the tourism market is to understand who is visiting and to collate better data for market development. Our Australian group whilst posing models of walking tours were witness to group after group arriving in buses or on cyclo tours leading me to think we need to be flexible on our thinking of how people would undertake a Citadel Trail.


Hue has a complex history of imperial rule, colonisation, regional influences, political transformation and recovery from a war-ravaged landscape, it is the combination of these elements that form what is the unique identity and local character. Therefore, it is challenging to balance the conflicting interests of stakeholders and their interpretation of ‘local character’. In a comparison with the work undertaken by Dovey, Woodcock & Wood (2009) on Fitzroy in Melbourne Australia, the success of Hue as a tourist attraction exacerbates the tensions between stakeholders. On one hand, UNESCO’s requirement of preservation can be restrictive in terms of renovation and renewal, whereas, the other extreme is unchecked development. As an example, the construction of illegal dwellings on the rampart walls has lead to forced resident relocation. Another more visual example in the gentrification in areas where traditional housing is being lost to more glamourous townhouse developments. Whilst gentrification can be a signal of success in desirability of ‘place’, it is often at the loss of local identity.

Development controls exist within the Management Plan of the Complex of Hue Monuments (Thua Thein Hue Provincial People’s Committee 2015) in regard to setbacks and building heights, however does it need to preserve all of the citadel housing in the context of Hoi an, or is some modernised development a good outcome for Hue?


In a western context we judge the success of place in terms of amenity and human activity and interaction. Upon initial observation of three specific sites in Hue, it appeared that work needed to be done as river bank walk, the Truong Tien Bridge that leads to the Citadel from the tourist precinct and the forecourt area adjacent to the Imperial City entry were underutilised and lacked interest to visitors.

However, initial single observations failed to capture how urban acupuncture is activating these locations, it is just that visitors to the city of Hue may not understand how this is applied in the localised context.

Figure 1: Principles of Urban Acupuncture

Source: Hoogduyn (2014)

In considering the principles of urban acupuncture of described by Hoogduyn (2014) in Figure 1, the Truong Tien Bridge and the Imperial City act as the sensitive points in which the analogy of the healing influence stems from these locations. Quick acting, small scale participatory activities create
‘places’ responsive to the requirement of the local population, considering climate and preferences for social engagement, however remain unappreciated by the visitor that does not make time to understand how space is used and place can be created through rapid activation.

River walk transformation
These comparison images of the river walk section under the Truong Tien Bridge demonstrate how the location is transformed. From a place devoid of people, possibly even perceived as unsafe in the morning, the river walk become a street market of an evening. Food and tea vendors line the walk in the cool of the evening when people have recreational time to shop or socialise with family and friends with no change to existing infrastructure.

Truong Tien Bridge
The Truong Tien Bridge is a sensitive point as it initiatives activation such as the market example above, but also enables alternative uses. Despite extensive public areas, the bridge is a popular morning location for exercise. As demonstrated below, the structure is used for strengthening and stretching exercises. An Australian comparison would be the installation of fitness equipment in a parkland setting, however again the Vietnamese adaption requires no investment in infrastructure utilised for short periods or subject to damage from flooding which is Hue has experienced over 48 recorded events exceeding 3.0m between 1977 – 2003 (Vo Ngoc Duc & Carlorosi 2017). It is this enabling that attracts people and allows the activation of surrounding and associated spaces.

The various guises of the Imperial City Forecourt
Over the course of the day, the forecourt to the Imperial City within the Citadel is transformed based on the people present and their application of use. In the early morning hundreds participate in morning exercises classes or walking the perimeter. As the day progresses, visitors arrive and it functions solely as a meeting location prior to entering the Imperial City.

However, it is of an evening when visitors have left the Citadel that the forecourt is an attraction worth visiting. Spectacular lighting creates a dramatic theatrical backstage as the forecourt again returns to a place of recreation with children playing and lovers seated in the privacy of the gardens.


The Citadel of Hue is an activated place. However, the challenge is to better understand who the visitors are in Hue and how to enable them to engage and immerse in the sense of place created through these types of activations. Likewise, determining the elements of local identity that need to be preserved and what change is acceptable in a modernised world will always be debated, but change will enviably occur. And finally, the understanding of space and how people use it must be viewed from a local perspective offering an opportunity for the true cultural experience. Participation in this study was an enlightening experience that some of the simplest interventions can have a healing effect.


  1. Dovey, K, Woodcock, I & Wood, S 2009, ‘A Test of Character: Regulating Place-identity in Inner-city Melbourne’, Urban Studies, vol. 42, no. 12, pp. 2295-2615.
  2. Hoogduyn R 2014, ‘Urban Acupuncture: Revitalizing urban areas by small scale interventions’, Masters Thesis, Blekinge Tekniska Hogskola, Sweden, viewed 16 June.
  3. Ngo Quang Duc & Phan Thuy Van 2017, ‘The System of Water Surface of Gardens in Hue Capital’, in M Rofe, Tran Dinh Hieu, Nguyen Ngoc Tung, Le Ngoc Van Anh (eds.), Hue citadel into the future: Managing Natural Hazards, Environmental Pollution, Tourism, and Community Resettlement, Place Smart, Hue, pp. 73 – 80.
  4. Nguyen, T.H.H & Cheung, C 2014, ‘The classification of heritage tourists: a case of Hue City, Vietnam’, Journal of Heritage Tourism, vol. 9, no. 1, pp.35-50, viewed 12 June. 3X.2013.818677
  5. Rofe, M, Tung, N.N & Van Anh, L.N 2017, “Balancing tourist aspirations with local needs: a case study of the Citadel of Hue, Vietnam’, in S Lira, A Mano, C Pinheiro & R Amoeda (eds.) Tourism 2017: 2nd International Conference on global Tourism and Sustainability, pp.131 – 138.
  6. Thua Thein Hue Provincial People’s Committee 2015, Management Plan of the Complex of Hue Monuments for the Period 2015-2020, Vision 2030, Thua Thein Hue Provincial People’s Committee, viewed 12 June,
  7. United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
    (UNESCO), Promote tourism as a tool for conservation and sustainable development at World Heritage sites, viewed 15 June 2018, a%20tool%20for%20conservation%20and%20sustainable%20 development%20at%20World%20Heritage%20s

Teresa Lever is the Economic Development Officer at Swan Hill in North West Victoria having returned to the profession after a sabbatical of some years and a renewed passion for representing the interests of regional Australia. Having worked as an Export Advisor with Austrade and managed the federally funded Healthy Communities program in Swan Hill, Teresa developed an interest in town planning due to the influence of the built environment on social health and commercial interactions.

After a placing making experience in the Burdekin, North Queensland, Teresa headed to Adelaide to completed a Graduate Diploma in Urban and Regional Design at the University of South Australia. In 2018, she received a scholarship from the University of South Australia to participate in a study tour to investigate place activation to stimulate tourism visitation in parts of the UNESCO listed Citadel of Hue, Vietnam. This paper reflects on the experience of a Vietnamese national treasure almost razed during the American/Vietnam War.