Downtown Saigon Tour (Saigon Notre Dame Basilica & Central Post Office)

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.

Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica or officially Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception

Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica or officially Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception

Rose windows all over the Basilica. Rose window is the general term for circular window common in French gothic cathedrals. This is also called Catherine window after St. Catherine of Alexandria who was executed on a spiked wheel.

Rose windows all over the Basilica. Rose window is the general term for circular window common in French gothic cathedrals. This is also called Catherine window after St. Catherine of Alexandria who was executed on a spiked wheel.

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.

Repainted and very clean-looking interior.

Repainted and very clean-looking interior.

Stained glass windows depicting the Nativity (L) and Jesus' baptism by St. John the Baptist (R).

Stained glass windows depicting the Nativity (L) and Jesus’ baptism by St. John the Baptist (R).

Engagement shoots galore!

The basilica as backdrop to these couples’ engagement shoots.

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.

Braving the traffic for their engagement shoot.

Buwis-buhay engagement shoot.

View of the Basilica from the Post Office.

View of the Basilica from the Post Office.

Before I headed out to hunt for L’Usine (where lunch was), 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.

An Eiffel brainchild. The facade of Saigon Central Post Office was being renovated last October 2014.

An Eiffel brainchild. The facade of Saigon Central Post Office was being repainted last October 2014.

Like the Notre Dame Basilica, it was also built during the height of 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.

Vietnam's main man. A large portrait of Ho Chi Minh welcomes visitor to the Saigon Central post office.

Vietnam’s main man. A large portrait of Ho Chi Minh welcomes visitors to the Saigon Central post office.

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One thought on “Downtown Saigon Tour (Saigon Notre Dame Basilica & Central Post Office)

  1. theepowerofgood says:

    I think all the wedding shoots at the cathedral confuse tourists – Viet couples display their wedding photos at the wedding itself so all their guests can see them. There is no bad luck association seeing the bride in her dress before the big day.
    I live and work in district one (quan mot) so I see this everyday. You can even ask to have your picture taken with them if you like or they will ask you! I think I’m in dozens of people’s wedding photos (both voluntarily and accidentally). Glad you liked by adopted hometown, come back anytime!

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