Last post, I introduced you the Saigon central cathedral. Today, is for another historic place, Saigon opera house.
The opera house was also constructed by French colonists and French materials. Built in 1897 by Ferret Eugene, the 800 seat building was used as the home of the Lower House assembly of South Vietnam after 1956. It was not until 1975 that it was again used as a theatre, and restored in 1995.
After the complete invasion of Cochinchina, in 1863 the French colonists invited a theatre company to Saigon to perform for the French legion in the villa of the French admiral at the Clock Square (Place de l’Horloge) (today, this is the corner of Nguyen Du and Dong Khoi streets). After a short time, a temporary theatre was built at the site of what is now the Caravelle Hotel. In 1898, the construction of the new theatre commenced on the site of the old one, and it was completed by 1 January 1900.
Between World War I and World War II, all costs of mobilization and demobilization as well as other costs for the theatre companies from France to Saigon were paid by the municipal government. Despite the fact that the theatre was planned as an entertainment venue for the growing middle class, its audience declined as more and more night clubs and dance halls boomed in the city. During this period, performances were presented only occasionally, some being concerts and others cai luong programs.
Following from the criticisms of the theatre’s façade and the high costs of organizing performances, the municipal government intended to turn the theatre into a concert hall (Salle de Concert), but this was never carried out. Instead, the theatre façade’s decorations, engravings and statues were removed in 1943 to make the theatre look more youthful. In 1944, the theatre was damaged by the Allied aerial attacks against Japanese Imperial Army and the theatre stopped functioning. As Japan surrendered to the Allied forces, France returned to Cochichina. In 1954, the French army surrendered to Viet Minh during the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ which led to the Geneva Accords in the same year. The theatre was then used as a temporary shelter for French civilians immigrating from North Vietnam.
In 1955, the theatre was restored for the purpose of becoming the seat of the Lower House of the State of Vietnam, then the Republic of Vietnam. After the Fall of Saigon in 1975, the building was restored to its original function as a theatre. In 1998, on the occasion of 300th anniversary of the founding of Saigon, the municipal government had the theatre façade restored.
Every Sunday morning, a small band perform tropical music in front of the theatre for tourists.
Nowaday, the building has restored its shine and take part in the so-called Sài Gòn. To us, Sài Gòn is not only a name or a city. It’s something more than that. In the next posts, I’m going to introduce other historic places and hope that will bring you closer to the definition of “Sài Gòn”
SaigonStay – All the best a local friends can give you!