A Roman-style arena where elephants and tigers were pitted against each other during the Nguyen Dynasty reign is being restored in the former imperial city of Hue.
The Hue administration is planning to relocate some tombs and residents’ houses that encroach the arena and the Voi Re Palace. Authorities are hoping that restoring this relic cluster will preserve historic vestiges and create an attractive destination for tourists.
Aerial view of the Ho Quyen Arena. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh
Nguyen Anh Tuan, Director of Hue City Land Fund Development Center, said that the center has measured and counted the number of tombs to be cleared in an area of nearly five hectares involving the Ho Quyen – Voi Re relic cluster.
After clearance, this area will be landscaped with trees and parking lots to facilitate sightseeing. The total cost of the restoration project is estimated at more than VND94 billion ($4.15 million), of which site clearance will count for VND54 billion.
Hoang Viet Trung, Director of Hue Monuments Conservation Center, said they were developing ideas for tourism exploitation of the Ho Quyen – Voi Re relic cluster.
He said the team plans to display images of battles between elephants (voi) and tigers (ho) at Ho Quyen through virtual images. The center is also researching the re-enactment of a ritual ceremony at the Voi Re Palace where the Nguyen Dynasty worshiped elephants. The two monuments are next to each other, so it would be convenient to connect them and organize a continuous sightseeing experience, Trung said.
The Ho Quyen Arena is reminiscent of ancient Roman arenas. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh
Researcher Nguyen Xuan Hoa, former director of the Department of Culture and Sports of Thua Thien Hue Province, said that Ho Quyen was a special relic in the complex of Hue monuments recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage in 1993. This is the only arena that hosted elephants and tigers. Under the Nguyen Dynasty, soldiers were trained to ride elephants here.
Hoa said related agencies should organize a tour that includes the Voi Re Temple, a place where war elephants of the Nguyen Dynasty were worshipped, to promote the historical value of the Ho Quyen relic.
Local authorities can also organize sacred festivals at the Voi Re Palace, simulating the training of soldiers under the Nguyen Dynasty and reconstructing battles between elephants and tigers with 3D images.
The Ho Quyen arena in Truong Da village, Thuy Bieu ward, had degraded over time and was encroached on by people in the surrounding area over many years.
At the end of 2019, the Hue Monuments Center had carried out restoration of some parts of the arena. The restoration of walls, steps, and wooden pulley system for opening the tiger cages has now been completed.
The Ho Quyen arena has three cages for tigers and two for elephants. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh
Under the Nguyen Dynasty, the arena served as a place to train and entertain kings and mandarins. It is said that the tigers were defanged before they were pushed to fight elephants.
The Ho Quyen arena was constructed in 1830 under the reign of King Minh Mang, with a two-walled scarf-shaped architecture. The inner and outer walls, 5.8 m and 4.75 m high, have an average thickness of 4.5 m. The outer wall has a circumference of 140 m, the diameter of the basin it creates is 44 m.
The grandstand was arranged for the king to sit facing the southeast direction; the seat was built higher than surrounding positions. To the left of the stand were 24-level ascending steps for the king and courtiers. To the right of the stand were steps for mandarins, soldiers and nobles.
Opposite the stand, there were five cages for tigers, and the field was a circular lawn. Outside the citadel, on a two-door gate, the words “Ho Quyen” were inscribed. Elephants were brought into the arena through this gate.
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