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10 Old Pictures (and History) of the Saigon Opera House

The Saigon Opera House (aka the Municipal Theatre) is one of Saigon’s oldest buildings and one of the city’s best examples of classical French architecture. Constructed at the turn of the 20th century, it has performed many functions throughout its history, from theatre to refuge shelter to legislative offices.

Western theatre in Saigon began in 1863 when colonialists brought a troupe in to perform for the French legion at the villa of the French admiral at the present day corner of Dong Khoi and Nguyen Du Streets. Around 1897, construction began on the Opėra de Saigon and it was completed in 1900.

Though built earlier, it was soon eclipsed in size by the Hanoi Opera House which opened ten years later. However, the buildings were built in different architectural styles – the Saigon Opera House incorporated French Third Republic design elements of the Petit Palais while its northern counterpart was modeled after the Palais Garnier.

In its first iteration, the Saigon Opera House could hold 1,800 theatre goers and featured detailed inscriptions, décor and furnishings, all imported from France.

During the period between WWI and WWII, night halls and dance clubs became the preferred entertainment in the Saigon and the Opera House was used sparingly. To make is seem more youthful, in 1943 French colonial authorities removed its statues, decorations and engravings.

But this was all for naught as Allied bombing of Japanese-occupied Saigon damaged the building in 1944.

By the time the French returned to South Vietnam in 1945, their focus had shifted from cultural colonization to military occupation and the theatre was used as a temporary shelter for French civilians fleeing the Viet Minh controlled north.

In 1954, the French left South Vietnam and the building was restored as the seat of the Lower House of the State of Vietnam, then the Republic of Vietnam.

After unification in 1975, it was recommissioned as a theatre and was extensively restored between 1995 – 1998.

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