Tiếng Việt


The Mysterious Gia Dinh Gate in the Heart of Saigon

An ancient gate, covered in yellow and nestled at the intersection of Phan Dang Luu and Dinh Tien Hoang streets, has been integrated into a wall of the Truong Cong Dinh junior high school in the Binh Thanh district, in the bustling heart of Saigon...
Bí ?n g?c tích chi?c c?ng Gia Ð?nh gi?a lòng Sài Gòn
Professor Hoang Dao Kinh at the ancient Gia Dinh gate
Professor of Architecture, Hoang Dao Kinh, an expert on ancient design, was on a recent field trip to Saigon and was impressed when he laid eyes on the architectural work of the gate and its inscription, “Gia Dinh”. “Small and not particularly beautiful, this type of architecture if preserved however, becomes a silent link between past and present,” he explained, “something vital for the people of Ho Chi Minh city to be aware of.”
In search of the origins
“For as long as the school existed, since 1975, everyone has tried to protect and preserve all the important relics of our city!” said Ms. Le Thi Hong Thuy, Vice-Provost of the Truong Cong Dinh Junior High School.
“There are very few documents clearly identifying this edifice. Visiting a traditional house in the nearby Binh Thanh district, I was surprised to find a huge mural clearly depicting a gate with the same inscription, next to an ancient tiled house in the “Panorama of Central Gia Dinh in Colonial Times” area. When I asked who painted it, the homeowner pointed at the Ho Chi Minh city University of Fine Arts opposite.” 
“We arranged to paint that mural to show structures as they used to be!” said the painter Mr. Trung Tin, Chairman of the Artistic Council of the Ho Chi Minh city Fine Arts Association. He also explained that, when creating the painting, he based his work on ancient maps of the colonial era, made in the 1930s, and photos of the tram lines which used to run through the Lang Ong–Ba Chieu area.
Many people believe it is the gate of the ancient Gia Dinh Citadel. Others say that it is too small to be the actual gate. Also, the “Gia Dinh” inscription is in Latin, which is not consistent with the time period. According to researcher Mr. Nguyen Dinh Dau, the original Gia Dinh wall was previously located where Ton Duc Thang, Dinh Tien Hoang, Nguyen Dinh Chieu, Nam Ky Khoi Nghia and Le Thanh Ton streets now intersect.
Others believe that the gate with the Latin inscription originally belonged to the Gia Dinh School of Art. According to Dr. Nguyen Thi Hau, Deputy-Secretary General of the Vietnam Association of Historical Science, the school was built in the early 20th century in a new architectural style, but its gate was in an ancient style, very different from the gates of contemporary schools.
Dr. Nguyen Thi Hau explained that Gia Dinh Citadel had an inner area, surrounded by protective outer ramparts. This gate could well have been one of the gates in the outer defenses.
“When searching for the location of the gate on French maps of the late 19th century, we can see that it is near the walls of the outer ramparts of the Citadel,” adds Dr. Nguyen Thi Hau. “Could it have been reused later as a gate of the Gia Dinh School of Art?”
Bí ?n g?c tích chi?c c?ng Gia Ð?nh gi?a lòng Sài Gòn
The gate in the “Panorama of Central Gia Dinh in Colonial Times” painting - Photo: Cong Trieu
Architecture of the past
Experts do not consider the architectural value of the small gate to be very high, but consider it a special heritage structure, especially because it is located in a region with a high concentration of ancient architectural works, which once dominated Saigon and Gia Dinh.
Across the street is the Gia Dinh provincial financial and civic affairs office, with French architecture, now used by the Binh Thanh district People’s Committee. Opposite is the traditional tomb of Marshal Le Van Duyet and, further away, a row of houses with old arched gates, now used by the Ho Chi Minh city police, next to the colonial-style buildings of the Nguyen Dinh Chieu school.
Dr. Le Vinh An of the Vietnam-Japan Institute of Engineering and Technology at Duy Tan University in Danang believes that the gate exhibits an awkward mixture of western and local styles. The designer, however, also tried to include “cap” elements, as in the traditional “cap-and-block” architecture, shown as decorative cubes around the roof. More noteworthy is the Roman “Gia Dinh” inscription in a strawberry-patterned frame, typical of the early last century.
Professor Hoang Dao Kinh considers the architecture of the gate “as a small nail in the city. A city like this one needs memories and reminders of its past, and gates are an integral part of this. Its existence is like something picked up to link past and present, to orient development for a more sustainable future,” he explained.
(Media Center)