Hue’s Garden Houses

The garden houses are a unique feature of Hue. The houses are traditional, privately owned, and set in attractive formal gardens. Some have connections with the old Royal Imperial Court. Hue traditional architecture has long been close associated with the natural environment. The garden houses reflect this association. Each is highly individual - house and garden, people and scenery, plants, clouds and water co-exist and blend with each other in a harmonious context.

Nearly all the garden houses have direct links with the Imperial Court. Some are descendents of royalty or mandarins, others received patronage from the royal family.

The garden houses are an important feature in Vietnam’s cultural landscape. Not only are they old and attractive, but also invaluable resources for understanding the practical applications of the ancient sciences that governed their construction. Even in Hue, very few remain intact, and those that survive do so solely because of the Vietnamese tradition of the beliefs and rituals of ancestor worship.

Tradition says that the house cannot be sold out of the family if the links to the ancestors are to be maintained, but rocketing land values have increased the value of the properties to astronomic levels. As time passes, the power of tradition grows weaker, and the temptation for succeeding generations to capitalise on the asset grows stronger.

For example, the present occupant of the An Hien is the owner’s grandson and is already advanced in years. His wife is currently resident in France. Their eldest son lives in California, their daughter is an MBA and works in London, and another son lives with his mother. All return for Tet each year to worship and maintain the continuity of the ancestral line, but the bond of kinship that sustains the family is strained by distance. One or two generations hence might see them break altogether.

Recently, the owner of Ty Ba Trang garden house died, and his successors decided to turn the house and garden into a large cafe. The former owner was the famous Professor Nguyen Huu Ba, a renowned musician, who made the house a museum of Hue’s traditional music, and blended the elements of song and melody with the design of the garden and the architecture of the house. Sadly, the intangible knowledge and wisdom stored in the garden house, and the insights into a past way of life, are now lost forever.

The owners of the garden houses receive no extra benefits for opening up their houses and acting as guides. In each case, their motivation is to preserve the traditions and culture of the past by making their homes accessible to interested visitors. We usually include a visit to at least one garden house for all our tours in Hue, and strongly encourage our guests to make a donation to the house owner to help with maintaining his or her property.

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