Part 2 of 5
Saturday, 04 October 2014
My next destination was the Saigon Notre Dame Basilica, some 500 meters north of the Palace. Vietnam probably is the next most Catholic nation in Southeast Asia after the Philippines. Of course, judging only by the number and fame of Catholic churches in Vietnam. Wikipedia classifies the architecture of the Saigon Notre Dame as neo-romanesque style characterized by rounded arches above entryways and windows. Built in the later half of the 1800s, during the French occupation, this brick bastion has survived World War II and the bloody Vietnam War with only a few shattered glass panes and broken tiles.
Inside is a lot more modern and kind of mismatched from its old 19th century brick exterior. I am not really into repainted old churches as it lessens the churches’ appeal as aged, mysterious and sacred place of worship. Nevertheless, I was in silent wonderment as I gazed upon its high-arched ceiling and stained glass windows and reveled in the fact that I was in Notre Dame. The Asian Notre Dame, that is.
Another thing that piqued my curiosity was the number of couples (or newlyweds?) having their pictures taken outside the Basilica. I mean, why not inside? At first I thought the ceremony just wrapped up but when I got inside the church, not a hint of wedding ceremony can be seen. I realized then that these photo shoots might be the couples’ pre-nuptial (or post?) photo shoot. Hah, pre-nup but already in their wedding attires. Anyway, the basilica really is a beautiful wedding photo backdrop. And given that the exterior of the basilica is a lot more grandiose than the interior, it has become clear why outside is the popular location for photo shoots.
Before I headed out to hunt for L’Usine (where I’d eat lunch), I proceeded to another famous HCMC landmark, the Saigon Central Post Office, located diagonally across the Notre Dame Basilica. It is still an active post office and public telephone station(?). In spite of the popularity of mobile phones, public landlines are still being utilized by the locals here. Mementos from the war like old coins, stamps, propaganda materials and other souvenirs can be bought from shops on either side of the post office entrance.
Like the Notre Dame Basilica, it was also built during the French occupation in the late 1800s. The neoclassical masterpiece was designed by Gustave Eiffel, the French engineer/architect whom a famous tower in Paris was named after.