During their 87 year imperialist reign the French imposed their own architectural style on a number of fine stately buildings, whole quarters and even whole cities in Vietnam. In Hanoi in particular, which was once the capital of French Indochina, the urge to build and put France’s stamp of authority on Vietnam led to the erection of a huge number of magnificent European-style buildings in the late 19th and early 20th century, including many government buildings, an Opera House and a Cathedral. The French administration changed the very shape of Hanoi, draining lakes and creating Champs Elysees inspired tree-lined boulevards wherever they could. Some of the buildings created during this grand mission to create a civilised ‘French’ Vietnam are now in a state of disrepair but most have survived well and been painstakingly renovated for Hanoi’s inhabitants to enjoy. Here is our list of the five most spectacular colonial buildings in Hanoi for you to explore.
St Joseph’s Cathedral
Saint Joseph Cathedral
The French didn’t just bring the Tricolore, pastries and copious wine-drinking to Vietnam, they also brought Catholicism. One way the French aggressively encouraged the Vietnamese people to take up the faith was the building of the Saint Joseph Cathedral on the site of a former temple. Completed in 1886, this church resembles the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris as it is built in the same neo-Gothic European style and features identical twin bell towers. Complete with large chiming bells, this cathedral is still active and popular amongst Catholic locals especially at Christmas time.
Hanoi Grand Opera House
The Hanoi Grand Opera House dominates the cultural heart of Hanoi. A smaller version of the Palais Opera Garnier in Paris, this huge opera house was constructed to reflect a renaissance-style oval theatre setting and was completed in 1911. Located on August Revolution Square, this building is very hard to miss, especially as its facade is meticulously painted in yellow and white neo-classical colours. Still in regular use, the Hanoi Grand Opera House now plays host to a wide variety of cultural performances all year round including the National Ballet and National Orchestra.
Hotel Sofitel Metropole
Wherever you are in Hanoi, someone will be able to point you in the direction of the Sofitel Metropole, so famous is this luxurious and historic hotel. A short walk from the Hanoi Grand Opera House, this hotel was founded in 1901 and throughout the colonial years played host to a variety of international stars and politicians. The first five-star hotel in Hanoi, Sofitel Metropole is a Hanoi institution with its white and green colour scheme outside and gorgeous period features inside evoking the elegance of Indochina days gone by.
Hanoi Opera House
National Museum of Vietnamese History
The National Museum of Vietnamese History is a wonderful example of the work of Ernest Hebrard, a French architect who took up the role of the Indochina Architecture and Town Planning Service in 1923. Hebrard is known to be the first architect to use the existing Vietnamese Chinese-influenced style of architecture to create an arresting hybrid blend of styles known later as Indochine. Formerly home to the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient in Vietnam, the Museum was completed in 1932 and features a distinctive ochre-coloured facade and features decidedly European gardens to the rear.
Originally constructed in 1906, this incredibly imposing building was originally the Palace of the Governor General of Indochina. Although undeniably a French colonial building, the palace has a distinctly Italian look as it was built using the design principles of the Italian Renaissance and Baroque. With a mustard-yellow facade, the Palace stands out as one of the most arresting and beautifully restored buildings in Hanoi. The history of the building is no less impressive as the Palace grounds are home to the stilt house in which Ho Chi Minh himself lived throughout his presidency and the great man’s mausoleum. Although the Palace itself is not open to visitors, Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House and Mausoleum are very popular destinations for tourists to Hanoi.
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