VietNamNet Bridge – The Reunification Palace, Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica and the Nha Rong Wharf are renowned for both their unique architecture and historic significance. Below are the most famous architectures in the city.
1. Reunification Palace
In 1868, French Governor in South Vietnam, La Grandière, placed the first stone on the 12-hectare area to mark the ground-breaking of the construction of the Indochina Governor Palace, also called Norodom Palace.
After the Geneva Treaty was signed, the area was handed over to PM Ngo Dinh Diem, who changed its named to Doc Lap (Independence) Palace.
In October 1955, Diem, through a referendum, deposed Head of State Bao Dai and proclaimed himself President of the Republic of Vietnam.
On February 27, 1962, a coup d’etat broke out against Diem’s regime. Leaders of the coup deployed two AD6 planes operated by two pilots Nguyen Van Cu and Pham Phu Quoc to bomb the palace, destroying its left side. Diem and his younger brother, adviser Ngo Dinh Nhu, escaped death and the coup ended in defeat.
As the palace was seriously damaged, Diem ordered the construction of a new palace at the same place but kept the structure’s name unchanged.
Construction of the new premise, covering 4,500 square meters, began on July 1, 1962, and was inaugurated on October 31, 1966. It was designed by architect Ngo Viet Thu.
On November 2, 1963, another coup d’etat took place, leading to the death of both Diem and Nhu.
In October 1967, Head of State Nguyen Van Thieu won the presidential election to become the President of the Republic of Vietnam. He lived with his family in the palace until April 21, 1975.
Earlier, on April 8, 1975, pilot Nguyen Thanh Trung also bombed the palace.
These days, the palace, renamed Thong Nhat (Reunification) Hall after 1975, receives large numbers of foreign visitors. At the site of the bombing, there is a note written in both Vietnamese and English saying, “At 8:30 am on April 8, 1975, pilot Lieutenant Nguyen Thanh Trung flying an F5E plane bombed the palace at this site.”
Guests can also visit the palace’s cabinet conference room, where on April 21, 1975, in the face of fierce military attacks by liberation army forces, Republic of Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu announced his resignation. He later fled the country. His deputy, Tran Van Huong, succeeded Thieu, but he also later resigned after failing to make headway in combating liberation forces.
On April 28, Duong Van Minh, a veteran general, took on the presidency, becoming the last president of the Republic of Vietnam, but his presidency lasted just 48 hours.
On April 30, 1975, a liberation army tank driven by Lieutenant Bui Quang Than crashed through the main gate, signaling the victory of liberation forces.
Lieutenant Than proceeded to raise a flag of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam at the palace, marking the victorious end of the 30-year resistance war of the Vietnamese nation.
Thirty-five years has passed since that time, and now Thong Nhat Hall is an agency managed by the Government Office. It serves sightseers and hosts both domestic and international conferences.
The architecture of the palace combines both Western and Eastern styles, and is also a combination of traditional and modern construction.
2. HCM City Opera House
The Municipal Theatre of Ho Chi Minh City, also known as HCM City Opera House is an example of French architecture in Vietnam. Built in 1897 by French architect Eugène Ferret as the Opėra de Saigon, the 800 seat building was used as the home of the Lower House assembly of the South Vietnam regime after 1956. It was not until 1975 that it was again used as a theatre, and restored in 1995.
After the invasion of Cochinchina, in 1863 French colonists invited a theatre company to Saigon to perform for the French legion in the villa of the French admiral at the Clock Square (Place de l'Horloge) (presently the corner of Nguyen Du and Dong Khoi streets). After a short time, a temporary theatre was built at the site of what is now the Caravelle Hotel. In 1898, the construction of the new theatre commenced on the site of the old one, and it was completed by 1 January 1900.
Between World War I and World War II, all costs of mobilization and demobilization as well as other costs for the theatre companies from France to Saigon were paid by the municipal government. Despite the fact that the theatre was planned as an entertainment venue for the growing middle class, its audience declined as more and more night clubs and dance halls boomed in the city. During this period, performances were presented only occasionally, some being concerts and others cai luong programs.
Following criticisms of the theatre's façade and the high costs of organizing performances, the municipal government intended to turn the theatre into a concert hall (Salle de Concert), but this was never carried out. Instead, decorations, engravings and statues were removed from the theatre façade in 1943 to make the theatre look more youthful. In 1944, the theatre was damaged by the Allied aerial attacks against Japanese Imperial Army, and the theatre stopped functioning. As Japan surrendered to the Allied forces, France returned to Cochinchina. In 1954, the French army surrendered to Viet Minh during the Battle of Dien Bien Phu which led to the Geneva Accords in the same year. The theatre was then used as a temporary shelter for French civilians arriving from North Vietnam.
In 1955, the theatre was restored as the seat of the Lower House of the State of Vietnam, then the Republic of Vietnam. After the Fall of Saigon in 1975, the building was restored to its original function as a theatre. In 1998, on the occasion of 300th anniversary of the founding of Saigon, the municipal government had the theatre façade restored.
The HCM City Opera House is a smaller counterpart of the Hanoi Opera House, which was built between 1901 and 1911, and shaped like the Opéra Garnier in Paris. It owes its specific characteristics to the work of architect Félix Olivier, while construction was under supervision of architects Ernest Guichard and Eugène Ferret in 1900.
Its architectural style is influenced by the flamboyant style of the French Third Republic, with the façade shaped like the Petit Palais which was built in the same year in France. The house had a main seating floor plus two levels of seating above, and was capable of accommodating 800 people. The design of all the inscriptions, décor, and furnishings were drawn by a French artist and sent from France.
3. Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica
Situated right in the heart of HCM City, the Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral is a famous age-long cathedral in Southern Vietnam. It is a magnificent building located at the Paris Square in HCM City downtown, attracting not only Catholics but also most tourists for its neo-Romanesque style architecture and a sacred atmosphere.
Established by French colonists, the cathedral was constructed between 1863 and 1880. It has two bell towers, reaching a height of over 58 meters. Following the French conquest of Cochinchina and Saigon, the Roman Catholic Church established a community and religious services for French colonialists.
The first church was built on Rue 5 (today's Ngo Duc Ke Street). This had been a Vietnamese pagoda, which had been abandoned during the war. Bishop Lefevre decided to make this pagoda a church. In 1959, Bishop Joseph Pham Van Thien, whose jurisdiction included Saigon parish, attended Holy Mother Congress held in Vatican and ordered a Peaceful Notre Dame statue made with granite in Rome.
When the statue arrived in Saigon, on February 16th, 1959, Bishop Pham Van Thien held a ceremony to install the statue on the empty base and presented the title of "Regina Pacis." It was Bishop Pham Van Thien who wrote the prayers "Notre-Dame bless the peace to Vietnam." On the following day, Cardinal Aganianian came from Rome to chair the closing ceremony of the Holy Mother Congress and solemnly chaired the ceremony for the statue, thus the cathedral was then-on called Notre-Dame Cathedral.
The cathedral boasts its honored status as a Basilica consecrated tens of years ago. In 1960, the Vatican founded a Roman Catholic dioceses in Vietnam and assigned archbishops to Hanoi, Huế and Saigon. Notre-Dame cathedral was titled Saigon Chief Cathedral. Yet, in 1962, the Vatican anointed the Saigon Chief Cathedral, conferred it basilique in honor of the tri-centenary of the Bishopric of Saigon. Since then, this cathedral was called Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica, which has enhanced its value and absorbed hundreds of thousands of catholics as well as international tourists to pay a visit.
Apart from the religious meaning that attracts tourists, the even more special captivating point of Notre-Dame Cathedral is its special neo-Romanesque style of architecture. During its construction, all its red bricks were imported from Marseilles and colored glass windows made in France’s Chartres Province, France.
Tiles have been carved with the words Guichard Carvin, Marseille St André France (perhaps stating the locality where the tiles were produced). Some tiles were carved with the words “Wang-Tai Saigon.” Many tiles have since been made in Saigon to replace the broken tiles caused by war. There are 56 glass squares supplied by the Lorin firm of Chartres province in France.
The cathedral foundation was designed to bear 10 times the weight of the cathedral. In front of the cathedral is a statue of the Virgin Mary. On a whole, the neo-Romanesque architecture and two 58m-high square towers tipped with iron spires dominate the city’s sky line, creating a beautiful religious site.
4. Viet Nam Quoc Tu Pagoda
Vietnam Quoc Tu pagoda is located on 3/2 Street, District 10, Ho Chi Minh City. This is one of the largest Buddhist temples in the city and is a relatively new one, built in the early 1960s, designed by Ngo Viet Thu.
The main complex of the pagoda spans seven stories, with the first two open to the public, an example of Vietnamese architectural principles. Visitors are given access to view the beautiful Buddha statue that is the centerpiece of the pagoda and allowed to walk the grounds.
5. Saigon Central Post Office
Saigon Central Post Office was designed and constructed by the famous French architect Gustave Eiffel (yes of Eiffel tower and Statue of Liberty fame) construction of this great Gothic architectural styled building began in 1886 and was completed in 1891.
Entering the Post office you are faced with a large portrait of President Ho Chi Minh and along the side wall there are there are old French colonial maps the first of which titled ‘Lignes telegraphiques du Sud Vietnam et Cambodge 1936′ translating to ‘Telegraphic lines of Southern Vietnam and Cambodia 1892. And the second is titled ‘Saigon et ses environs 1892′ Translating to ‘Sai Gon and its environment 1892′.
If you are interested in sending a postcard, the center counter has plenty of postcard packs at fairly good prices. After you have purchased and filled it in, just head to one of the first few manned counters on the left side of the building to purchase a postage stamp.
6. Ben Thanh Market
Built in 1870 by the French, the market was initially called Les Halles Centrales before being renamed Ben Thanh in 1912. From a wet market created by street vendors by the early 17th century, Ben Thanh has experienced many ups and downs throughout its history, and is now the oldest surviving market and one of symbols of Ho Chi Minh City. That makes it a must for any visitors travelling to this 300-year-old city.
Today, because the market possesses one of the most crucial locations in District 1 (the intersection of Le Loi, Ham Nghi, Tran Hung Dao Avenues and Le Lai Street), transportation is extremely convenient and trade is bustling. In the morning, you can find almost everything from dry food to clothes for a reasonable price. The market atmosphere can sometime be a real hustle and bustle, but it is an exciting experience after all. However, always remember that bargain is a must in any Vietnamese market.
From late afternoon until late night, the shops inside the market are closed, but several restaurants are open outside on the surrounding streets. These small yet interesting restaurants can offer you a variety of choices: bubble teas, grills, seafood, etc. When you are tired of eating, stand up and take a walk along the neighborhood which has in no time transformed into a night market full of lights and glamour.
7. Thu Thiem Tunnel
The Saigon River Tunnel or the Thu Thiem Tunnel is an underwater tunnel that opened on November 20, 2011. It runs underneath the Saigon River. The tunnel was built with capital from JCIA's ODA. It connects the existing urban center of Ho Chi Minh City with Thu Thiem New Urban Area in District 2.
The Saigon River Tunnel is part of the East-West Highway, an important road project under construction to ease the congestion of transport in the inner city as well as transportation from downtown to the Mekong Delta region. The existing downtown was previously only linked with the Thu Thiem New Urban Area by many bridges, namely: Thu Thiem Bridge, Phu My Bridge and Ba Son Bridge.
8. Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee Building
The Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee Building was first known as the Hotel de Ville when it was completed in 1908. Its French builders drew inspiration from town halls in Europe. The building was known as the City Hall of Saigon before 1975.
The building is closed to the public, as it is an official Vietnamese government building. Its beautiful French Colonial architecture and sunny cream-and-yellow hue, along with its iconic statue of President Ho Chi Minh, make it a tourist favorite and a symbol of Saigon.
The building stands at one end of Nguyen Hue Boulevard on The Le Thanh Ton Street, a brisk walk away from Dong Khoi Street.
9. Nha Rong Wharf
Nha Rong Wharf is a cultural site with special relics in Ho Chi Minh City, where late President Ho Chi Minh left to seek ways to save the nation over 100 years ago.
On June 5, 1911, the patriotic young man Nguyen Tat Thanh left the country on the ship, Admiral Latouche Treville, to begin his quest for salvation. Many changes have taken place over the past 100 years but Nha Rong Wharf still exists and ideals of the young man who later became the great leader of Vietnam are still shining along with the nation.
Nha Rong Wharf - Sai Gon’s trading port on the Saigon Vietnam River – was built in 1863 by French colonialists. The building was a combination of western and eastern architecture.
Nha Rong is the name that Vietnamese used to call the office of France’s Messageries Maritimes Company. This magnificent building was built in 1863, four years after the French seized Saigon. It has original and strange architecture. Its roof has the elegant beauty of the roof of a Chinese pagoda with two dragons competing for a fireball. As there are two dragons on the roof, Vietnamese call the building Nha Rong.
Nha Rong is located at the three-way intersection of the Saigon River and Ben Nghe Canal. On the far side of the canal, there was a rice field on a high area. At that time, there was no bridge over the canal, so people went to Nha Rong by boat. More than 20 years later, the Messageries iron bridge was built to connect Adran Street, now Ho Tung Mau Street, with the far side of the canal.
Messageries Maritimes was a big sea transport company and was established in 1851. It was headquartered in Marseilles and had shipping routes to America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Many ships of the company were named after Vietnam’s geographical places such as Annam, Tourane, Sontay, and Haiphong. Nha Rong Wharf was the stopover for ships going from Marseilles to Hong Kong and Yokohama.
Many postcards were printed with the images of ships and wharfs used by Messageries Maritimes and there were paintings of the company’s ships in storms. Nha Rong appeared in many postcards for decades. Later it was printed on the Vietnamese 50,000-dong banknote. Together with Ben Thanh Market, Nha Rong is one of the two symbols of Ho Chi Minh City.
After the French colonials were defeated in 1954, the wharf was managed by the South Vietnam government which repaired the roofs of the two houses and replaced the old dragons with two new ones that dance outwards.
After Unification Day, the building became a historical relic and memorial area for President Ho Chi Minh.
To mark the 10th death anniversary of President Ho on September 2, 1979, Nha Rong Wharf welcomed visitors to an exhibition on “President Ho Chi Minh’s career for salvation.” The Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee decided to turn the “President Ho Chi Minh Memorial” into the “Ho Chi Minh Museum” on September 20, 1982.
The museum collects, preserves, displays and disseminates information about President Ho Chi Minh’s life and revolutionary career as well as his love for the southern people. The Ho Chi Minh Museum in Ho Chi Minh City currently has more than 11,000 documents and items and 3,300 books on President Ho Chi Minh.
Nha Rong Wharf is a great location for tourists Vietnam travel who want a unique experience.
10. Vietnam History Museum
The Museum of Vietnamese History is located at 2 Nguyen Binh Khiem Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1. Formerly known as the Musée Blanchard de la Brosse, built by Auguste Delaval in 1926, and The National Museum of Viet Nam in Sai Gon, it received its current name in 1979. It is a museum showcasing Vietnam's history with exhibits from all periods.
Compiled by Pha Le