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Back to the future: Saigon’s landmarks a century ago

By Quynh Tran, Minh Nga   September 9, 2017 | 07:00 pm GMT+7

The southern metropolis has a story to tell you about its past.

Saigon has witnessed drastic changes throughout the years with many new buildings and infrastructure projects, but how much has the city really transformed over the last century and more?

VnExpress International delved into the archives to find images of some of its best-known landmarks for a then-and-now view of the city.

Lang Cha Ca Roundabout in Tan Binh District

This roundabout was meant to be the last resting place of Pigneau de Béhaine, a French Catholic priest best known for his role in assisting Nguyen Anh (later Emperor Gia Long) to establish the Nguyen Dynasty (1802–1945) in Vietnam. The priest died in 1799 and was laid to rest in a mausoleum until 1983 when his remains were sent back to his hometown in France, making way for this roundabout near Tan Son Nhat International Airport.

Then photo via flickr/manhhai

Turtle Lake in District 3

After taking over Saigon, the French built a water tower in 1878 before replacing it with a monument and a small lake in 1921. In 1956, the southern Vietnamese regime destroyed the monument but kept the lake. In 1967, the lake was transformed and a statue of a turtle was erected. The turtle has since been removed, but to locals this is still Turtle Lake.

Then photo via flickr/manhhai.

Reunification Palace

Reunification Palace, one of the most famous landmarks in Saigon, rose up from the remnants of Norodom Palace. In 1863, France completed its conquest of southern Vietnam (Cochinchina), and to consolidate the newly established colony, the governor of Cochinchina placed the founding stone for the new palace in 1868.

Then photo via flickr/manhhai

Nguyen Hue Pedestrian Street

Nguyen Hue is now one of the busiest streets in Saigon, but not many people know that it used to be a canal. In 1790, the canal was dug to let water flow from the Saigon River into the city, but in 1887 the French filled in the canal to create a boulevard.

Then photo by Émile Gsell (1838 - 1879), a French photographer who worked in Southeast Asia and became the first commercial photographer in Saigon.

Sunwah Tower on Nguyen Hue Street

This building was used as a court by the French 120 years ago, and public beheadings were carried out in the courtyard (which is now part of Nguyen Hue pedestrian street). It was demolished in 1995 to make way for a multi-story office building.

Then photo via flickr/manhhai

September 23 Park

This park was a train station from 1915 to 1978 when trains ran from Saigon to nearby areas in the south, as well as Nha Trang and Hanoi. These days, the park in District 1 is home to a bus station.

Then photo via flickr/manhhai

District 1 Cultural Center

In 1905, a Protestant church was built on the corner of Mac Dinh Chi and Le Duan. Following the end of the war, it was trasnformed into a cultural center.

Then photo via flickr/manhhai

Buildings on Dinh Tien Hoang Street

The two buildings at the corner of Dinh Tien Hoang and Le Duan were built by the French as military camps in 1873. They were destroyed by the U.S. in 1963, and now their replacements belong to two universities.

Then photo via flickr/manhhai

Nguyen Van Binh book street

Before 1975, the one and only book street in Saigon was named Nguyen Hau. Lying in District 1 near Notre Dame Cathedral and the Post Office, this street had always been quiet with little traffic. This is why it was chosen to become a book street in 2016.

Then photo via flickr/manhhai