Within the Imperial City complex in Huế, Vietnam, is a secondary citadel called in English the "Purple Forbidden City". (Or, per some sources, the "Forbidden Purple City.")

According to my guide book1:

The Forbidden Purple City, enclosed by a low wall, was the personal domain of the emperor; only eunuch servants and concubines were allowed in.

The Wikipedia page for "Imperial City, Huế" says:

Within the Imperial City is the Purple Forbidden City (Tử cấm thành), a term similar to the Forbidden City in Beijing. Access to the innermost enclosure is restricted to the Nguyễn imperial family.

I can't seem to find why it's called so. What does the word "purple" in the name refer to?

1: "The Rough Guide to Southeast Asia on a Budget," 4th edition, September 2014. ISBN 978-1-40934-559-6. p. 869.

  • I asked on meta if this question was appropriate and got no response other than a comment saying, "probably", so I figured I'd go ahead and ask. Apr 18, 2016 at 15:07
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    My SWAG at it would be that this refers to the traditional association with (incredibly rare and expensive as a dye) purple and royalty. I thought that was more of a Roman thing though.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 18, 2016 at 15:32
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    @T.E.D. - That was my first thought as well, but the wikipedia article on the color purple is quite Euro-centric and only mentions the Roman association with royalty (and subsequent usage in Europe.) Maybe it came from French imperialism? Apr 18, 2016 at 15:38
  • The inlaid stonework of the Hall of Supreme Harmony as shown in the Wikipedia sure has a lot of purple-tinged stone. My first reaction on seeing the picture was "Okay; it's a purple building." upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9f/PalaisHarmonie.jpg Apr 18, 2016 at 18:04
  • @PieterGeerkens - That building is not part of the Forbidden Purple City; it's part of the Imperial City. Most of the Forbidden Purple City was destroyed by the French in 1947, there's only like 3 buildings left. The only undamaged building was the Emperor's Reading Room (link is to Google image search.) Apr 19, 2016 at 9:48

2 Answers 2


It is a literal translation of the Sino-Vietnamese phrase "Tử cấm thành": Tử means Purple, Cấm means Forbidden, and Thành means City. "Purple" here refers to the Purple Forbidden enclosure, a group of stars in Chinese constellations, the legendary residence of the Emperor of Heaven. It should be noted that the Purple Forbidden City has only been so called since 1822; before that, it was called "Palace City".


The Purple Forbidden City in Hue is an imitation of The Purple Forbidden City in Beijing, since the Vietnamese Empire was an imitation of the Chinese Empire. According to Wikipedia, "purple" is (for some reason) the Chinese name of the North star, believed to be the home of the Celestial Emperor.

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