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The anniversary is being marked with a series of events called “Days of European legacies.” Visitors can enjoy Indochinese architectural features of the 19th century and learn more about the histories of architecture and relics in the building.
Construction of the building was completed by French engineers in 1872. It was the residence of the governor of the colonial army, then the commander-in-chief of the French army in South Vietnam. After 1954, it became the French embassy in the south; and after 1975, the office of the Consulate General of France.
Consul General of France Emmanuelle Pavillon-Goser (left) said she was happy that the events were well received by HCMC residents.
“The preservation and education regarding historical structures for future generations has a very important meaning. France knows this well and pays special attention to the younger generations. I am happy today to see so many young people come here,” she said.
The Consul General said the building was testament to efforts expended on repairing and maintaining old structures. France often sends experts to the site to evaluate areas showing signs of degradation and determine if they need to be repaired, she added.
The event is a French initiative to mark national legacies that began in 1984 in France, opening up structures that the public would not be able to visit every day.
Since 1985, the European Council has expanded the initiative to all of the European Union. The event’s name was changed to “Days of European Legacies” in 2000.
At the center of the building is a stateroom where cultural and other events are organized. The architecture and design of the room has both Eastern and Western influences.
The Consul General said Saturday’s event saw more than 4000 residents register to visit, but the number was limited to slightly above 1,000 security reasons and to ensure the best experience for everyone. It was the first time the building was being opened fully to the public, she said.
Eight pieces of lacquer and mother of pearl folding screens adorn the walls of the stateroom. Their age and origin are currently unknown.
There are many artifacts of multiple origins linked to the Nguyen Dynasty style. Most of these were transferred from what used to be the Norodom Palace, later the Presidential Palace and today, the historic Independence Palace. Some of them artifacts were transferred from the former French Consulate in Da Nang.
The most ancient relic in the room is a statue from the Cham Kingdom, believed to be around 1,000 years old.
Consul General Pavillon-Goser said the French government pays a lot of attention to cooperation with Vietnam on cultural preservation. France was currently cooperating with Vietnam on enhancing museum operations by sending experts to advice Vietnamese colleagues on optimal ways to exhibit relics and receive the public, she said.
“France also wishes that cooperation would go beyond tangible legacies and would develop the cooperation towards intangible legacies as well,” she said.
The dining room inside the Consulate General’s office is where guests are received for meals. Next to the windows are two pieces of horizontal boards with lacquered Chinese characters.
Wooden statues of the Buddha in the dining room are thought to have originated in Thailand.
Wooden, lacquered chairs are placed along the hallways as are large ceramic vases that might have been made in Vietnam in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Three cupboards containing kitchen and dining silverware are found at the corner of the hallways. These were brought to Vietnam from France. The vessels carry initials that indicate when they were made.
One of the most important art pieces inside the building is a lacquered painting called “Procession in the village” by artist Nguyen Gia Tri (1908-1993) with Japanese influences. It was painted in 1939 and was made of nine different pieces.
It was restored in 2013 with funding from the French community. Some paintings by Tri are considered “national treasures” and cannot be taken out of the country.
Khac Nguyen, 22, visited the building with a group of 10 friends. She said it was a rare opportunity to explore the building learn more about it as it was not open to the public, usually.
“We do projects about preserving and spreading knowledge about culture and old values among the youth. I see that many projects nowadays are too academic and tough to digest, which are not suitable for Gen Z,” she said.
One of two Buddha statues made of stone is placed in the building’s garden. Their age and origin are currently unknown.
The statues were a gift in 1960 from a French woman known as Messmer who lived in Vietnam then. She used to run a teahouse called “La Pagode” on Catinat Street, now known as Dong Khoi Street. The teahouse switched ownership in 1960 and is now the headquarters of a tourism company.
Vietnamese employees in the building often bring offerings to these statues on auspicious occasions.
Van Anh, a fourth-year student at the HCMC University of Social Sciences and Humanities, said she liked the ancient features of the building.
“There is a lot of cultural convergence between Asia and Europe here, as well as unique features of the Indochinese region,” she said.
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License number: 71/GP-CBC, Ministry of Information and Communications, September 22, 2021
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