When the French left Saigon they left behind a beautiful, lasting legacy
In September 1858, 14 French warships attacked the port of Da Nang in Central Vietnam. So began what was to bee a hundred years of Colonial rule in the country. When the French were finally defeated and repelled in 1954, they left behind some of the most beautiful buildings in the country. In the former capital of southern Vietnam, Saigon, you’ll find some of the most beautiful of them all. The Neoclassical architecture would not be out of place in any of the finest European capital cities.
Walking round the city, I marvel at the sheer beauty of these buildings, and there are many. One of the stand-out examples has to be the magnificent Notre Dame Basilica which stands in a square at the top of Dong Khoi in the city’s District 1. It was built between 1863 and 1880 and its twin bell towers dominate the skyline in the square standing at 190 feet. The materials were imported from France, the glass from Chartres and the bricks from Marseilles.
In the same square you will find the equally magnificent Old Post Office. Not many cities can claim to have a humble post office designed and built by Gustave Eiffel. This, however, is no humble post office. It is a superb example of architecture. The arched windows and large clock above the entrance, lend an appearance more suited to a grand railway station. It seem incredible that this is still a working post office, but it is. People buy their stamps daily under the impressive arched ceiling, whilst a portrait of Uncle Ho, peers down approvingly from the gable wall.
A few blocks from here The Municipal Theatre of Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon Opera House as it has come to be known, stands atop a delightful gardened square, surrounded by up scale hotels and designer shops. This 800 seat masterpiece is a smaller version of the Hanoi Opera House and is styled upon the Opera Garnier in Paris. I often enjoy a morning coffee in the coffee shop built onto the rear of the theatre.
Between 1902 and 1908 The magnificent Hotel de Ville de Saigon was constructed. Following the reunification of the country in 1975, it was taken over by the new government and is now used as a town hall building. Renamed Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee, it is sadly no longer open to the public but cuts a fine figure at the head of Nguyen Hué on Le Than Ton. In the garden to the front, a statue of Ho Chi Minh with seated with a child stands in the park. This has become one of the most photographed statues in the city.
Next door to the Opera House, on Dong Khoi, the Hotel Continental has been welcoming guests since 1880. Named after the Hotel Continental in Paris, this is right in the heart of the business area. During the war it played host to journalists and Newsweek and Time magazines both had their Saigon Bureaux on the second floor. It was then known as the Continental Palace, after the war the government took control and renamed it the Dong Khoi Hotel, but after refurbishments in 1989 it reopened, once again as the Hotel Continental.
These are just a few of my favourite French colonial buildings in Saigon. When you put the ancient Asian buildings and the modern glass towers into the mix, Saigon really is a wonderful place in which to live and work.
About the Author: Keith Hancock is a singer/songwriter and writer based in Saigon, Vietnam. He has lived in Asia for more than 5 years and travels throughout the continent researching and writing. He owns and writes for Saigon Districts, an informative website about life in Vietnam’s largest city, aimed at the expat community. Keith is one of only two DIAMOND STATUS rated writers on Ezine articles in the whole of Indochina He has had work published in magazines and websites in the UK, Europe, USA, Australia and Asia. His great loves are music and travel, but he writes on a whole range of subjects.