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Hue Citadel’s 'Colosseum': Where Tigers and Elephants Battled to the Death

A unique, yet rarely visited monument in Huế’s ancient citadel is Hổ Quyền Arena, a stadium where tigers and elephants once fought till their last breath for the royal family’s entertainment.

While one might expect this to be a fair fight, the elephant’s victory was nearly assured as the tiger’s sharp teeth and claws were removed before each battle. This edge was likely given to the elephants due to their royal favor, earned for their role as tools of war. In addition, tamers sat atop the goliaths to direct them.

That being said, both animals could put on quite a show.

Before Hổ Quyền was built, these clashes took place in open fields, the most gruesome of which occurred under Gia Long’s reign and featured the massacre of 18 tigers by 40 elephants. During this battle, one of the tigers pushed a tamer off his elephant who was then crushed under its weight.

Shortly after, Gia Long’s heir - Minh Mạng - was nearly killed by a tiger in a similar skirmish.

To make things safer (relatively speaking) King Minh Mạng decided to build Hổ Quyền in 1830 for such “sporting” events, the last of which took place in 1904.

While not as impressive as Rome’s Flavian Amphitheatre in scale or design, the arena’s brick walls have stood the test of time.

About 400m from the site is Long Châu Miếu, a cemetery where elephants that died in these spectacles were buried and worshiped.

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