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.
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.
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.
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.