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Ho Quyen arena relic: Vietnam's 'Roman Colosseum'

The Ho Quyen arena relic in the former royal capital of Hue is well-known for its unique architecture and stories about battles between elephants and tigers.
About 5km to the west of Hue’s center, the Ho Quyen arena - Voi Re palace relic in Thuy Bieu ward was once the arena for battles between elephants and tigers in the Nguyen Dynasty. It is known as the "Roman arena of Vietnam".
The relic in the past. Photo: Delcampe.net

The arena was built in 1830 (the 11th year of Minh Mang's reign) for the purpose of organizing fights between elephants and tigers.
The arena was an exposed structure in the shape of a turban and was very grandiose for its time. The inner wall is 5.9 m high; the outer wall is 4.75 m high. The perimeter of the outer wall of Ho Quyen is 145 m, and the diameter of the basin is 44 m. The arena was built with a special type of brick, bar stone, and fine lime mortar.
More than 100 years ago, countless battles to the death between two powerful species of animals took place here. The last match of elephants versus tigers was held in 1904 during the reign of King Thanh Thai. It was an exciting, dramatic match that was witnessed and described by many contemporaries.
According to historical records, the matches were held not only for entertainment purposes but also for the training of elephant riders. The place was also used to organize major festivals of the feudal court to encourage the martial spirit of the people.
Under the Nguyen Dynasty, the elephant was a symbol of ultimate strength and power, symbolizing the dynasty, so it should be the winner, while the tiger represented the ferocious enemy forces, so it was the loser.
During this period, the death battle between elephants and tigers took place only once a year. The Nguyen kings were the organizers, drivers, and spectators who enthusiastically cheered for the match until the elephant killed the tiger.
The walls of the arena have been restored by craftsmen and artisans to the original decorative motifs. The door elevating and lowering system in tiger cages is made of wood and rope. The wooden bar on the ancient stone door system that was once used is still intact.
The cage held tigers participating in the match, viewed from the stands. The place had a tank for tigers to drink water.
The Ho Quyen arena is a structure with unique architecture not only in Vietnam but also in the world, although in terms of scale, it is nowhere near as grand as the famous Colosseum in Italy. However, it is unique because, since ancient times, there has never been any dynasty in history that built a structure for the duel between tigers and elephants.
The local government has decided to spend US$4 million to renovate this relic. The completed work will contribute to preserving the monument and serving tourists.

Quang Thanh

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