(Photo: Ngoc Bich)
This place is to worship Princess Ngoc Son, or Nguyen Phuoc Hy Hy, the daughter of King Dong Khanh (1885 – 1889). She was married to the head of the army, Nguyen Huu Tien, the son of academician Nguyen Huu Thang, a high-ranking mandarin of the Nguyen Dynasty. After having a daughter, princess Ngoc Son came down with a seirous disease and passed away at the age of 20. As she would expect, prince consort Nguyen Huu Tien remarried to a royal member of the Nguyen family, princess Cong Ton Nu Thi Tran, the daughter of Duke Nguyen Phuoc Ung Quyen, the younger brother of Dong Khanh.
In 1921, Mr. Nguyen Huu Tien built a garden house on an area of 2,400m2 to worship Princess Ngoc Son, his first wife. This is where he, his second wife and 7 children lived. For more than 90 years, descendants of Nguyen Huu Tien have been protecting, worshiping and preserving the garden house despite the constant changes of Gia Hoi and Hue Citadel.
Most of phu de (palaces) of princes and princesses of the Nguyen Dynasty were damaged or restored for the urbanization. Whilst, Princess Ngoc Son’s worshiping house seems to retain all of its old features, from the exterior to interior and family breeding the daily lives of descendants.
Unlike other worshiping houses in Hue, Princess Ngoc Son does not own a three-door gate. The entrance is opened behind the house with a curved path between two lines of teas and two lines of arecas on the left of the house. The last point of that path is a large yard, which features a pond planted with water lilies and a rockery with a miniature temple, bridge and tower. This house of worship does not have a screen in the front like other traditional houses in Hue. The rockery takes the role of the fengshui for the house. The owner of the house took the most advantageous of fengshui elements, combined with refined aesthetic competence to create a harmonious complex of architecture. The rockery is high enough to protect the worshiping house from misfortunes and offer a space for the owner to enjoy the beauty of nature and cool winds from the large lotus pond in front of the house.
On both sides of the house, stand two small gardens, two stone blocks to play the role of “dragon on the left, tiger on the right” in front of the house, along with flowerpots and ornamental plants.
The main architecture of Princess Ngoc Son Worshiping House is a double house: the front house with three compartments, with yellow mortared pillars decorated in a European style that was very popular in Hue in the beginning of the 20th century. The main house with three compartments and two lean-tos was constructed as a panel house in Hue with a tiled roof and mortared patterns. The structure was made of wood with four lines of pillars and rafters, horizontal lacquered boards and parallel sentences written in Han scripts.
The main house was arranged according to the principle “tien phat hau linh” (Buddha front and ancestors behind). They worship the Buddha in front and behind is their ancestors: academician Nguyen Huu Thang, prince consort Nguyen Huu Tien, his wives and their descendants. Remembrances of the prince consort, from medals awarded by King Khai Dinh (1916 – 1925) to his entertaining objects such as a set of xam huong (a kind of game in Hue) or a wooden set of dau ho (a game of the Nguyen’s royal members), Chinese objects, silver or ivory betelnut tray or tea tray, are preserved carefully and displayed in an old wooden cabinet as a private museum. In addition, thousands of valuable books written in different languages make this place a big library in the ancient citadel.
A hall leads to a complement house on the right hand, where it used to be “the world of servants”. It is now the living space the whole family.
Princess Ngoc Son Worshiping House is the combination of traditional architecture, “trung thiem diep oc” (roofs overlap one another, houses connected to one another) and European style and materials, which can be found in its pillars in the front house, the decoration of the foundation, glassy lamps on the pillars and a system to hold the roof on both sides of the house. This complex is skillfully put in an “arranged” area based on principles of fengshui and Oriental philosophy with the tien an (rockery), minh duong (lotus pond and water tank), ta long and huu ho (two stone blocks on both sides of the front house). Apart from the worshiping house of the passed people and the living place of descendants, there is also the grave of the second wife of prince consort Nguyen Huu Tien. Local people in Hue are always willing to share their space with passed people. That spirit has been clearly manifested in Princess Ngoc Son Worshiping House for a long time. Between life and the death, is the space of trees, flowers, the leisure and the luxury in the appearance and manner of Hue’s people and cultural standard.
At present, the owner of the house is Mrs. Nguyen Thi Suong, grandchild of prince consort Nguyen Huu Tien. Her husband is a well-known historian in Hue , Mr Phan Thuan An. It is their understanding about Hue’s history and culture that makes Princess Ngoc Son Worshiping House preserved and protected carefully. This spirit is passed down to their three children, who are working in preservation and heritage fields in Hue.
Visiting Princess Ngoc Son Worshiping House, you will not only have a chance to witness the standard architecture of a Hue garden house, but also discover the “family habit” of Hue people and deep corners in Hue’s soul, which is a part of Hue’s heritage.
From Royal Palace, Hue to Thuong Tu gate, turn left to Tran Hung Dao street and pass Dong Ba market across Gia Hoi bridge. Then, turn left to Bach Dang street to Dong Ba bridge, turn right to Nguyen Chi Thanh street; or from Imperial Palace across from Chinh Dong gate (Dong Ba gate) on the left, then go over Dong Ba bridge to Nguyen Chi Thanh street, go straight about 200 meters, you will reach princess Ngoc Son Worshiping House at No 31.