Dragon House, Harks Back To French

The former office of a French shipping company, Nha Rong or Dragon House,is one of the well-recognized historical sites of HCM City

On September 3, 1979, 10 years after President Ho Chi Minh passed away, HCM City authorities decided to establish a place to commemorate him. The selected spot was a waterfront building called Nha Rong. It was at this wharf that 21-year-old Nguyen Tat Thanh boarded a ship for France in 1911 and then lived in many other countries. Thirty years later, he returned to Vietnam with the name Ho Chi Minh to be a leader of the national liberation movement.

Nha Rong is the name that Vietnamese used to call the office of France’s Messageries Maritimes Company. This magnificent building was built in 1863, four years after the French seized Saigon. It has original and strange architecture. Its roof has the elegant beauty of the roof of a Chinese pagoda with two dragons competing for a fireball. As there are two dragons on the roof, Vietnamese call the building Nha Rong.

Nha Rong is located at the three-way intersection of the Saigon River and Ben Nghe Canal. On the far side of the canal, there was a rice field on a high area. At that time, there was no bridge over the canal, so people went to Nha Rong by boat. More than 20 years later, the Messageries iron bridge was built to connect Adran Street, now Ho Tung Mau Street, with the far side of the canal.

Messageries Maritimes was a big sea transport company and was established in 1851. It was headquartered in Marseilles and had shipping routes to America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Many ships of the company were named after Vietnam’s geographical places such as Annam, Tourane, Sontay, and Haiphong. Nha Rong Port was the stopover for ships going from Marseilles to Hong Kong and Yokohama.

Many postcards were printed with the images of ships and ports used by Messageries Maritimes and there were paintings of the company’s ships in storms. Nha Rong appeared in many postcards for decades. Later it was printed on the Vietnamese 50,000-dong banknote. Together with Ben Thanh Market, Nha Rong is one of the two symbols of HCM City.

After Vietnam was reunified in 1975, Nha Rong was repaired to serve as a house of commemoration, then as the Ho Chi Minh Museum in the south. After Nha Rong was restored, the two dragons on the roof no longer faced each other: one looked east and the other looked west. On the roofs of palaces or pagodas, dragons sometimes confront each other, look outside or look back. Vietnam has been in the situation of two dragons fighting each other several times. Most dramatically, it was when the Trinh and Nguyen fought each other and the period after the Geneva Accords of 1954.

Trinh and Nguyen Lords competed for power, so Vietnam was divided into the North and the South, with the Gianh River in Quang Binh Province as the border. Once, after the signing of Geneva Accords in 1954, Vietnam was divided at Latitude 17. Ngo Dinh Diem’s Government in the south, supported by the U.S., refused to hold a general election to reunify the country. The 20-year war that followed caused much human misery and slowed the building of the country.

On the bank of Ben Nghe Canal opposite Nha Rong, the French erected a mast to signal the travel of ships and boats. Vietnamese called it Thu Ngu Flag Pole, which remains. Nearby is La Pointe des Blagueurs for people who were fond of joking. This was an ideal place to sit and chat and watch the ships travel on the Saigon River, enter and leave Ben Nghe Canal, or berth at Nha Rong Port.


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