The greatest products of architecture are less the works of individuals than of society; rather the offspring of a nation’s effort, than the inspired flash of a man of genius.”
– Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

Visiting churches is not something that comes to mind when considering tourist sites around Vietnam, but there I was, standing inside Saigon’s Notre Dame Cathedral on one of my daily wanderings through the city.

While in Hanoi I noticed a few churches that were being renovated–they looked like they were in disrepair and the renovations were injecting life back into them. The architecture and colors were beautiful, but I couldn’t enter the grounds with all the construction going on.

Notre Dame Saigon
Traffic outside Notre Dame Cathedral

When I arrived in Saigon, I found the pinkest church I’ve ever seen (inside and out) just down the street from my apartment. It was a fascinating sight.notre dame saigon

As I searched for places to visit in the city, I came across Notre Dame Cathedral, which is conveniently located across the busy street from the Saigon Central Post Office. As the post office was one of the places I wanted to visit, not only because I had postcards to send, I decided I could see both at once.

saigon central post office
The Saigon Central Post Office

Of course, I walked along this route more often than just to see the sights. Notre Dame and the post office were on the way to the Co.op Mart as well as to the center of culture and entertainment in Saigon.

Getting to know Notre Dame in Saigon

In the early days of French colonial rule, a church was built for colonists, but it was later deemed too small. Notre Dame Cathedral was then constructed beginning in 1877 with material imported from France. notre dame saigon

Construction was completed in 1880, with the two bell towers being added in 1895.

The interior of the cathedral is not as interesting as the many churches I visited in Italy and not as colorful as that pink church near my apartment. There were some stained glass windows around that would be of more interest to someone with greater knowledge of the biblical stories they represent.notre dame stained glass

The most intriguing part of Notre Dame is its location. It’s set on an island in the middle of a busy intersection with numerous tour buses stopping along the street every day.notre dame saigon

I often walked nearby, choosing this route because of the beautiful tree-lined avenues on Le Duan leading to the former presidential palace. It was also near Pasteur Street, where I found a pleasant roadside beer and food vendor for some entertaining nights (the roadside fun has since been replaced by a popular coffee shop).

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