Top 6 typical French architectural works in Vietnam

Although the French colonial era in Vietnam (1884–1954) came to an end more than 60 years ago, relics of this period still exist today. Here are six most well-known works located in 2 centers of Vietnam – Hanoi in the North and Ho Chi Minh in the South.

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1 – Hoa Lo Prison (1 Hoa Lo Street, Ha Noi)

It is known as the Hanoi Hilton and is situated in the French Quarter of Hanoi. Originally, the French colony called it Maison Centrale, which translated to the central prison. One of the greatest jails built under French colonization in Indochina, this structure was initially conceived of by architect Henri Vildieu in 1895 and constructed between 1896 and 1899. Hoa Lo Prison was built with stone walls that were 4 meters high, 0.5 meters thick, and even reinforced with electric steel wires.

The portion of the prison that is still standing on Hoa Lo street today serves as a historical artifact and draws several foreign tourists and also received love from domestic tourists by its historical value and well-supported tour.

2 – St. Joseph’s

Saint Joseph Cathedral in Hanoi
The cathedral was designed in medieval and Gothic architecture.

(40 Nha Chung Street, Ha Noi)


The oldest church in Hanoi is St. Joseph’s Cathedral, which was started in 1886 and finished in 1888. It was one of the first buildings constructed by the French colonial authority. It has Neo-Gothic architecture that is modeled after Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and features large, curved arches that face the sky. Its outside measurements are 64,5 meters in length and 20,5 meters in breadth. A large clock, a stone cross, and two square bell towers with a combined height of 31,5 meters make up the facade. The church is currently one of Hanoi’s top tourist destinations in addition to being a place of worship for Catholics.

3 – Hanoi Opera House (1 Trang Tien Street, Ha Noi)

Hanoi Opera House

The Hanoi Opera House, formerly known as The City Theater, was constructed between 1901 and 1911 by the French government and modeled after the Paris Opera’s Palais Garnier by two French architects, V. Harley and Broyer.

The Hanoi Opera House is a distinctive building with exceptional historical, cultural, architectural, and artistic worth. It served as a venue for classical art performances for the French and Vietnamese Elites in the past. Nowadays, visitors visit the Hanoi Opera House to take in a variety of musical performances, including classical music, opera, traditional plays, and folk music from Vietnam. Being able to perform here counts as a recognition of one’s talent and contribution to national art, so it has evolved into the stage of dreams for all Vietnamese artists.

4 – Reunification Palace (135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, District 1, HCM City)

Reunification Palace

Reunification Palace, often referred to as Independence Palace, is a well-preserved museum that offers a look into the way of life of South Vietnam’s bureaucratic elite and contains a wealth of information about the war’s history.

Reunification is the official name for the main conference hall inside Independence Palace, according to historians and authorities from Ho Chi Minh City. People have been mixing up these names for years.

The majority of the building supplies came from France. The construction was only completed by 1871 and named Norodom Palace after the king Norodom of Cambodia (1834–1904).

5 – Dragon Wharf – Ho Chi Minh Museum (1 Nguyen Tat Thanh Street, District 4, HCM City)

The Dragon Wharf, the city’s first commercial port, was constructed on the Saigon River between 1862 and 1863 to accommodate the need for commerce between colonized Vietnam and the rest of the globe.

Its distinctive architecture, which blends French and Vietnamese design elements, is effectively represented by the layout of the main structure. On its roof are two statues of Vietnamese dragons. The wharf name is thought to have originated from this ornamentation, which is frequently visible in the architecture of historic temples and pagodas in Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam’s first and beloved president, left from this location on the French ship Admiral Latouche Treville on June 5, 1911, when he was 21 years old, beginning a 30-year trip across the globe.

Because of this, the location was transformed into a museum in 1979, including a remarkable collection of 3,000 images and 700 objects related to President Ho Chi Minh, including his personal items and journals as well as several scripts and publications that detail his amazing life.

6 – Ben Thanh Market (at the intersection of Le Loi, Ham Nghi, Tan Hung and Le Lai Street, District 1, HCM City)

One of the landmarks of Ho Chi Minh city is undoubtedly Ben Thanh Market. The market’s origins may be traced to the early 17th century, when it served as a gathering place for small companies that were selling their wares on the sidewalk next to the Ben Thanh River (now it is Saigon River). The region was given the formal name Les Halles Centrales by the French colonial authority in 1870 (or Central Market). The market was relocated into a new structure later in 1912 and given its current name, Ben Thanh Market.

This Art Deco-style market was created by architects Brossard and Mopin and is topped by a huge dome with a diameter of 28 meters. The main entrance is distinctive due to its sizable belfry. Its 10,000 daily visitors get access from all sides through its four main doors. The market has around 13,000 m2 of space and about 1,500 vendors selling clothing, shoes, crafts, food, and other items.

In addition to being fascinating during the day, Ben Thanh Market transforms into a smaller version of Saigon at night, allowing visitors to fully immerse themselves in the Vietnamese way of life and culinary tradition.

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