Saigon: a European City?



According to a comparison made by the first administrators of the colony, Saigon was meant to be a French Singapore. But Saigon never measured up to that British port and crossroads, the object of much jealousy, even if its location placed it at the confluence of the branches of the Mekong delta and gave it a hinterland of at least 300,000 km2. Saigon was also the expression of colonial triumph: Europeans felt at home there among the grand avenues and architecture of the neighbourhoods reserved for them. In the accounts of travellers, Saigon quickly acquired the image of a lascivious city, with a joyful atmosphere, characterised by lightness and charm. The economic capital of French Indochina, it was also a city of fractures: the urban centre was European and the periphery was native. Saigon was the product of colonial history and was made by its settlers, even if the first stirrings of revolution hatched there in the 1920s and 1930s. European society was not, however, completely impermeable or homogenous.

French capture of Saigon, 17th february 1859. Drawing from the magazine L'Illustration, 23th april 1859 edition. Source: Wikimedia Commons