5 Most Spectacular Colonial Buildings in Saigon
In Saigon, as in Hanoi, the French Imperialist powers of 1858 to 1945 left their mark on the city streets in their flamboyant and imposing architecture. Although French rule in Vietnam lasted less than a hundred years, the colonial power’s lasting impression on the face of the city streets cannot be erased. And why would the people of Saigon want to? The beautiful buildings of the colonial era often reflect a mixing of the styles of the West and the East, resulting in a unique Indo-China architecture today’s residents of Saigon have repurposed for their own enjoyment. The broad tree-lined boulevards of Saigon are the also work of the French as is the city’s Paris Commune Square which just so happens to be the location of almost all of our top five colonial buildings in Saigon.
Notre Dame Basilica
The Notre Dame Basilica is the main cathedral in Saigon and is one of the most famous landmarks in the city. Completed in 1880, the cathedral was constructed to provide religious services for French Catholics residing in Vietnam and was built using bricks and glass imported from France. A smaller replica of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, this neo-Romanesque monument to French Catholicism in Vietnam dominates the Saigon skyline. The two towers of the Basilica are topped with iron spires and the flower gardens at the front of the cathedral are home to a white granite statue of Our Lady of the Peace, sculpted and shipped from Rome. The cathedral is still used for religious services today.
Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee Building
It’s hard to believe that Ho Chi Minh City’s Committee Building was once a hotel. In fact, it’s hard to believe that it was once a hotel and is now a government building as the majesty and opulence of this building immediately brings to mind a palace. Located just a short walk from Nguyen Hue, this building is the centrepiece of French colonial architecture in Saigon. Formerly the Hotel de Ville de Saigon, this building was designed by French architect Gardes and was in use as a hotel from 1909. Dazzlingly ornate, the People’s Committee building is beautifully illuminated at night and thanks to the yellow-orange colour of its facade is affectionately referred to as The Gingerbread House. The building isn’t open to the public but tourists flock here to have their photograph taken alongside the statue of Uncle Ho that guards the entrance.
Ho Chi Minh Post Office
Another building whose mundane purpose seems completely at odds with its magnificent architecture is the Old Post Office, located just a short walk from the People’s Committee Building. The Post Office was designed by no other than Gustave Eiffel and was completed in 1891. The building is open to the public so if you’re impressed by the striking stature of the building’s exterior, complete with giant clock face and arched windows, then you really must take a look inside. The cavernous vaulted ceilings are offset by the beautifully tiled floors and the walls are adorned with historic maps of Vietnam. The requisite painting of Uncle Ho watches over visitors from the far end of the business hall.
Saigon Opera House
Like Hanoi, Saigon has its own imposing Opera House right in the heart of the city. Watching magisterially over the frantic traffic of Lam Son Square, the Saigon Opera House is now over 115 years old. Designed by Monsieur Ferret Eugene and built in 1897, the Opera House was conceived as a smaller version of the Petite Palais in France. A classic example of European architectural splendour at its most ornate this building has survived Saigon’s tumultuous past as well as various renovations and alterations. A night at the opera is a great excuse to see the Opera House from the inside.
The Continental Hotel
A building with an intriguing literary and cinematic past, the Continental Hotel is where Graham Greene lived while writing his famous book ‘The Quiet American’ and features heavily in the Oscar-winning film Indochine. Said to be the first hotel in Vietnam, the Continental was completed way back in 1880. Like the nearby City Post Office and People’s Committee Building, the Continental Hotel is one of the original and most arresting examples of 19th century French colonial architecture in Saigon. While many of the more infamous parts of the hotel’s interior are no more, the pavement cafe out front is still in existence and still holds much of its original charm.
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