Ho Quyen: Vietnam's Centuries-Old Gladiatorial Arena
This arena was built in 1830 (the 11th year of Minh Mang's reign) to serve the purpose of organizing fights between elephants and tigers. This is considered a festival of the royal court and commoners.
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. This 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 also an exciting, dramatic match that was witnessed and described by many contemporaries.
According to historical records, the matches were not only for entertainment purposes but also for the training of elephant riders, a very elite group of soldiers of the Cochinchina army. This 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 always 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 cage used to hold tigers participating in the match, viewed from the stands. This place has a tank for tigers to drink water.
The walls of the arena were 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 late Hue cultural researcher, Ho Tan Phan, once commented that the Ho Quyen ancient 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 (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 government of Thua Thien - Hue province is renovating and embellishing the Ho Quyen - Voi Re relic cluster with a total investment of USD 4 million. The completed work will contribute to preserving the monument and serving tourists.
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