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Saigon’s Citadel - Part 2

This is part 2 of our series on Saigon's citadel. You can read part 1 here.

Nguyen Anh (AKA Gia Long) would never use his citadel for military action as hostilities only resumed after his death in 1831. Shortly before he expired, Anh selected Minh Mang, his youngest son, as heir to the throne rather than his older son, Prince Canh.

This did not make governor of southern Vietnam, General Le Van Duyet, a happy camper. Duyet, who enjoyed relative autonomy from the central administration at this point, was a supporter of Catholic missionaries and continually undermined the orthodox Confucian Mang. This did not last long, however as by the 1830s, Southern Vietnam was incorporated into central administration which called for greater oversight of Saigon.

Even though he died a few years prior, when the newly appointed mandarins arrived in the city, they immediately undertook a full inquiry into Duyet’s rule, finding widespread corruption and abuse of power. To posthumously punish the former governor, his grave was lashed 100 times. Bet that hurt.

Oh, and they imprisoned his subordinates and executed 16 of his remaining family members.

Duyet’s remaining cohorts, likely pissing their pants, launched a rebellion under the leadership of Duyet’s adopted son, Le Van Khoi. After capturing the citadel, the group took to Duyet’s grave where they rejected the imperial authority of Minh Mang and declared support for An Hoa, the son of Prince Canh. That same night, they executed all remaining central administration officials and within 3 days, Khoi’s forces had captured all six southern provinces.

To further consolidate power, Khoi courted local Catholics, not only seek protection in the citadel but fight alongside his army. Vietnamese priests would go on to lead their Catholic armies against imperial forces until 1835, when, after months of siege, the citadel ultimately fell to Minh Mang.

While Khoi died during the siege, his commanders and between 500 and 2,000 citadel defenders were executed along with French missionaries such as Priest Joseph Marchand.

Priest Joseph Marchand

Mang, not wanting to endure another long siege in the event of further rebellion (and probably looking for retribution), ordered the destruction of the citadel and that a smaller one be built in its place.

The new citadel, completed in 1836 was much smaller and purposely designed to be susceptible to naval bombardment. The length of the square sides was 475 m (1,558 ft), surrounded by 20 m (66 ft) high walls, made from granite rocks, brick and earth.

Saigon would enjoy 20 years of relative quiet until 1858 when Franco-Spanish forces landed at Da Nang.

Check back next week for part 3 where we’ll see the citadel’s role in resisting French occupation of Saigon.

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