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Saigon 100 years ago through a French photographer’s lens

By Tam Ky   March 31, 2022 | 08:31 pm PT
A photo book by a French doctor, J. C. Baurac, sheds light on the architecture and life of people in southern Vietnam in the late 19th century.
A corner of Go Vap Market at the end of the 19th century was introduced in the photo book Nam Ky Va Cu Dan: Cac Tinh Mien Dong (La Cochinchine et Ses Habitants: Provinces de lOuest or Cochinchina and Its Inhabitants: Eastern Provinces) by J.C. Baurac - a French colonial doctor who came to Vietnam in the 19th century.Formed in 1897, Go Vap Market is one of the four oldest markets in the old Saigon - Gia Dinh (a former province of South Vietnam that encircles Saigon). According to the historical document, the market earns its name for locating on a hilly slope covered with trees.The work is part of Bauracs two-book series, divided into two parts - the East and the South West, released domestically in mid-March. Photos in the book were taken by Baurac or collected from other photographers.

A photo of Go Vap Market at the end of the 19th century in 'Nam Ky Va Cu Dan: Cac Tinh Mien Dong' (La Cochinchine et Ses Habitants: Provinces de l'Ouest or Cochinchina and Its Inhabitants: Eastern Provinces) by the doctor who came to Vietnam earlier that century.
Built in 1897, Go Vap Market is one of the four oldest markets in Saigon - Gia Dinh (a former province in South Vietnam). According to the historical document on Go Vap District's website, the market got its name because it was located on a hilly slope covered with trees.
The book is part of Baurac's two-part series, the East and the South West. The photos in the book were both taken by Baurac and obtained from other photographers.

Cha Ca was originally a 2,000-square-meter mausoleum, built to worship Bishop Ba Da Loc, who in the past was called Cha Ca. He is a French Catholic priest, born in 1741, whose real name is Pierre Pigneaux. He used to go to Vietnam as a missionary and assisted Nguyen Anh (later Emperor Gia Long) to establish the Nguyen Dynasty (1802–1945) in Vietnam. The tomb was built in the traditional Vietnamese architecture style, mimicking the shape of a communal house and having a harem and a place to worship. In the 20th century, the area around Cha Ca Mausoleum gradually developed, houses were built a lot, the downtown area of Saigon expanded to the periphery. After 1975, the mausoleum was cleared to widen the path to serve the development of the country. The remains of Bishop Ba Da Loc were handed over to the Consul General of France and brought back to the country.

Cha Ca was originally a 2,000-square-meter mausoleum built to worship Bishop Ba Da Loc, who was called Cha Ca.
A French Catholic priest born in 1741 as Pierre Pigneaux, he came to Vietnam as a missionary and assisted Nguyen Anh (later Emperor Gia Long) with establishing the Nguyen Dynasty (1802–1945).
The tomb was built in the traditional Vietnamese architectural style, mimicking the shape of a communal house and with a harem and place for worship. In the 20th century the area around Cha Ca Mausoleum gradually developed with houses coming up, and the downtown area of Saigon expanded its periphery. In 1975 the mausoleum was demolished for widening the road and building the roundabout near Tan Son Nhat International Airport. The remains of Ba Da Loc were handed over to the consul general of France and taken back to his homeland.

The Tax Administration Building at the end of the 19th century is one of the prominent works of the urban center. This work now becomes the headquarters of Ho Chi Minh City Customs Department, located on Ham Nghi Street (District 1).

The Tax Administration Building at the end of the 19th century is one of the most prominent urban structures in the southern region. This building has now become the headquarters of Ho Chi Minh City Customs Department, located on Ham Nghi Street in District 1.

Saigon Port is busy with ships passing by for trade. In the book, Baurac writes: At the entrance to the city, at the corner of the Saigon River and Ben Nghe canal is the berth of the Messageries Maritimes passenger ship, connected to Saigon by a giant iron bridge over the Ben Nghe canal. .

Ships passing through Saigon Port with cargo.
"At the entrance to the city, at the junction of the Saigon River and Ben Nghe canal was the berth for the passenger ship Messageries Maritimes, connected to Saigon by a giant iron bridge over the Ben Nghe canal," Baurac wrote in the book.

The Saigon Great Hall was built in 1881 and completed in 1885, designed by Foulhoux and Bourard. In 1898, the building was changed to the Saigon Criminal Court cum Indochina High Court. This place is currently the Peoples Court of Ho Chi Minh City, located on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street (District 1), still retaining the ancient features of a 140-year-old building.

The Palais de Justice was designed by Cochinchina’s first chief architect Marie-Alfred Foulhoux and architect Jules Bourard. It was built in 1885.
In 1898 the building was designated the Saigon Criminal Court and Indochina High Court. It is currently the Ho Chi Minh City People's Court and located on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street in District 1. It retains all the features of a 140-year-old building.

A corner of the deer park in the Saigon Zoo - now the Zoo and Botanical Garden, the eighth oldest zoo in the world. In 1864, Admiral De La Grandière built the Botanical Garden. He expanded 12 hectares of wasteland in the northeast of Thi Nghe canal to make a place to raise animals and nurse plants. A year later, the zoo was basically formed with some barns. At that time, the park had 509 species of animals, including 120 species of mammals, 344 species of birds, 45 species of reptiles...

The deer park in Saigon Zoo, now the Zoo and Botanical Garden, the eighth oldest in the world.
It was built by Admiral De La Grandière in 1864. He expanded 12 hectares of wasteland along the Thi Nghe canal to create a place to house animals and grow plants. In the beginning it comprised of barns but had 509 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and others.

The Military Hospital (French: Hôpital militaire) was established in 1862, when the French army invaded Cochinchina. The structure of the buildings on the campus are prefabricated iron ribs, assembled on a stone foundation, all materials are brought from France. Since 1978, the work has been renamed Childrens Hospital 2.

The Military Hospital (Hôpital militaire in French) was built in 1862 when the French army invaded Cochinchina. All the buildings were built with prefabricated steel and a stone foundation. All the materials were brought from France. In 1978 it was renamed Children's Hospital 2.

A corner of Notre Dame Cathedral in Saigon - the work described by Baurac as the most beautiful in Saigon at that time. When it was completed in 1882, the church did not have a bell tower. Two pointed bell towers more than 57 m high were added in 1895, for a long time becoming the highest point in the city. At that time, tourists who came to Saigon by sea, from afar, saw the roof of the church first.  In the book, Baurac concludes: Cochinchine is one of the best countries to live in, but its very expensive. In Saigon, the true city of civil servants, there are no furnished apartments, but guests. Singles hotels and empty houses for others... All in all, life is pretty fun here, but after a very short time, people get tired of the endless variety of dishes being served. to satisfy their appetite. Soon, people go to eateries, then return to hotels and so on. The rent and meals are about 150 to 160 francs a month.

Notre Dame Cathedral in Saigon. Baurac described the church as the most beautiful structure in Saigon at the time.
The cathedral did not have two bell towers when built in 1880. They were added in 1985 to include a total of six large bronze bells and two crosses at the top, 60.5 m above ground.
It used to the tallest building in the city for a long time.
"Cochinchina is one of the best territories to live in, but it's very expensive...All in all, life is fun here, but in a very short time people get tired of the endless variety of dishes being served. Soon people go to eateries, then return to hotels and so on. The rent and meals are about 150 to 160 francs a month".

The book also describes portraits and customs of the people of Saigon - Gia Dinh at that time. The five-body Ao Dai was popular in the 19th century. The dress consists of two pieces of fabric sewn together to form the front body in a discreet style. The four outer bodies represent the four fathers and mothers: their parents and the parents of their beloved, the fifth body represents the wearer. The shirt always has five buttons, representing the morality of being human: benevolence, righteousness, ceremony, wisdom, and faith.

The book also has portraits of people who lived in Saigon - Gia Dinh.
The ao dai ngu than (five-part dress) was popular in the 19th century. The dress consists of two pieces of fabric sewn together to form the front body in a discreet style. Four parts represent the parents of the couple, and the fifth represents the wearer. It always has five buttons, representing the morality of being human - humaneness, justice, rite, knowledge, and faithfulness.

A woman dressed in mourning in the old South.

A woman dressed in the funeral attire of the southern region.

The two covers of JC Bauracs book, when placed side by side, make a map of the South of the 19th century. Ange Eugène Nicolaï - deputy governor of Cochinchina in the period 1897-1898 once commented on the book: I have read and re-read his book over and over again. The smallest details have been captured and presented with the vibrancy and conviction of those who have witnessed, participated (...) as well as the progress achieved and then found the point of attraction for readers for his works.

The covers of the two books, when placed side by side, form a map of the southern region during the 19th century.
Ange Eugene Nicolai, deputy governor of Cochinchina in 1897-98, once said he read this book many times, and complimented it for paying close attention to detail and containing lots of informative descriptions.

 
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