Hanoi Opera House

A Little Paris in Hanoi

If the Old Quarter represents ancient Hanoi, the French Quarter reflects the time when Vietnam’s capital was under the influence of the French. With tree-fringed boulevards and mansions in French architectural style, this quarter evokes the image of Paris in the 19th and 20th century.


 

French architecture first came to Hanoi in 1805 when Emperor Gia Long ordered the remodel of Thang Long Citadel. He was inspired by the Vauban design and hired four French engineers to oversee the reconstruction. Decades later, as Hanoi became an administrative centre for the French colony in Indochina, French architectural style flourished. From building’s structure to elaborate decoration, the distinctive features of French architecture was visible at every turn. Even the street layout was also modelled after Paris, with parks, fountains and tree-lined boulevards. Though wars and times inflicted some damage, many of these architectural gems remain today.

French architecture in Hanoi
French architecture in Hanoi
Windows and door in French architectural style
Windows and door in French architectural style
Elaborate balcony
Elaborate balcony
A corner in Hanoi French Quarter
A corner in Hanoi French Quarter

Among thousands of French architecture in Hanoi, the Opera House is probably the most representative. Finished in 1911, this building is a replicate of the famous Palais Garnier. Though the decoration is somewhat simpler, it was still considered an architectural landmark at that time. After the departure of the French, the Opera House became the stage for several political events, including demonstrations and street fights. Today, the theatre was the venue for world-class performances and musicals, as well as the base for the Vietnam National Opera and Ballet.

The leafy street leading to Opera House
The leafy street leading to Opera House
Hanoi Opera House
Hanoi Opera House
Elaborate decoration of Hanoi Opera House
Elaborate decoration

Another outstanding example of French colonial architecture is the Sofitel Legend Metropole – Vietnam’s oldest hotel opened in 1901. With white stuccos, forest green shutters and Paris-inspired cafe, this grand hotel has long been a rendezvous point for artists, ambassadors and state leaders from around the world. Today, the hotel is recognised as a heritage of Hanoi – elegant in style and rich in history.

Sofitel Legend Metropole
Sofitel Legend Metropole
The iconic forest green shutters
The iconic forest green shutters

Saint Joseph’s Cathedral is another name that’s worth mentioning. Constructed in 1886, this Neo-Gothic building was the first church in Hanoi. It was modelled on the Notre Dame de Paris, with a square facade and twin bell towers that resemble its Parisian counterpart. Standing the test of time, Saint Joseph’s Cathedral today serves as the head church for Catholics in Hanoi and the surrounding regions.

Saint Joseph's Cathedral
Saint Joseph’s Cathedral
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21 Comments

    1. Len Kagami

      It’s beautiful, isn’t it? But in the 70s and 80s, this architectural style was considered as symbol of imperialism. Fortunately, the government didn’t destroy them 🙂

      1. TheRamblingWombat

        Food, people, hustle bustle and for a visitor the crazy traffic is fun … agree you would have a different perspective on that if you lived there. I am also into history.

  1. Virginia Duran

    What a lovely post to read. I made note of your recommendations as I’ll be publishing an architecture guide of Hanoi at some point soon. Which is your favourite building of this period?

    1. Len Kagami

      Hm… I would say the Opera House. Its appearance is unique, much different than the other French architecture in the city. The nearby National Museum of Vietnamese History is also interesting: a combination between French and Chinese architecture. In term of interior, I think the Metropole is my favourite. Its terrace cafe and inner garden are also gorgeous 🙂

  2. Lignum Draco

    Thanks for this interesting post. I was considering visiting Hanoi and the northern areas this year but had to change my plans. Maybe next year. This will be good to visit.

    1. Len Kagami

      Hopefully next year 🙂 late March or late September would be the perfect time to visit the region. Winter is a bit cold and humid, but I think you can stand that. I don’t recommend going there in summer because of the crowd and the bad weather.

  3. Grey Travels

    Vietnam I think us my fave country and Hanoi my fave city in Vietnam. I found the area and history fascinating , the people welcoming and serene and the food lovely 😊

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