The French Quarter in Hanoi was mainly formed and developed during the French colonial period, from the early 20th century until the 1945s.
This area used to be for the Vietnamese and French civil servants in Hanoi. The basic structure of the quarter is mainly for living with separate villas, buildings serving the government apparatus such as courts, offices, and commercial shops.
Hanoi French quarter has typical attractions, and it is a valuable heritage of the Capital’s culture.
Location and map of Hanoi French Quarter
This is the location of Hanoi French Quarter in the map nowadays.
Here is an old map about the area of the French Quarter.
History of the development of Hanoi French Quarter
In the late nineteenth century, when the French colonists arrived in Hanoi, the city landscape was quite different from what we see today. In the memoirs of European merchants, Hanoi Old Quarter was described as narrow streets with no sidewalks and small houses. Hoan Kiem Lake was surrounded by tiny huts that it was hard to come to the edge of its water.
Since 1884, the colonial government had constructed and renovated the city with the ambition to turn Hanoi into a new modern city, displaying the power and wealth of France.
In 1887, besides the removal of small huts and building roads along Ho Guom lake, the French paved with bricks on both sides of Trang Tien street. This was the first modern road of Hanoi, which was a prerequisite for the development of a new neighborhood located in the south of Hoan Kiem Lake.
The colonial government built a French Quarter in the south of Hoan Kiem Lake following the chess board-shaped streets (square towns), combined with crossing roads and squares, which were the typical architecture of European cities in the 19th century.
Hoan Kiem Lake, after being cleared of cottages and garbage, automatically became the center of the city. This quarter played a soft transition between the square form of the southern French streets to the non-standard Vietnamese streets in the north of Ho Guom Lake.
The unique architecture of the French Quarter in Hanoi
In terms of structure, the French Quarter in Hanoi is based on a grid of lines. This structure is quite complete, so it is difficult to be broken. The main roads of the East-West directions with nice pavements are larger than the streets of the North-South axes.
Thus, on the East-West roads have been ranged with vital buildings which are the urban highlights, such as Hanoi Opera House, Hang Co Station, University of Pharmacy, Ngan State goods …
The North-South axes are valuable for connecting large spaces such as Hoan Kiem Lake or Thien Quang Lake, and the future development area of Hanoi.
In the French Quarter, mostly buildings designed by French architects, strongly influenced by a colonial architectural style. Also, there are many villas, semi-detached houses, office buildings designed by Vietnamese designers or in cooperation with Vietnamese and French architects in the design and construction process. The details of Vietnamese culture, architecture and the local lifestyle have also been paid attention to apply to these heritage sites.
Therefore, the French architecture style has been tropicalized for Vietnam in general and Hanoi in particular. This is the value of an urban community that is relatively homogeneous in terms of architectural style, height, building density, even lifestyle and income of residents of this area.
The architecture of Hanoi French old quarter has lived in the life and development of Vietnam’s capital. It pointed a remarkable development of urbanization in Thang Long – Hanoi, integration of the local culture with Western culture through the reception of the design of construction, and the development of architectural art based on the experience of urban architecture in France, applied in Hanoi area.
Typical buildings in the French quarter of Hanoi
From the end of the nineteenth century, the French began to build public works, villas.
From 1920 to 1954, there were more works built om the north of Hoan Kiem Lake:
- Cua Bac Church (built in 1925), Finance House and Register (built in 1925-1930) which is now the headquarters of Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
- Club French sport (built in 1930) and then became Ba Dinh Club, now located in the Thang Long Imperial World Heritage site, and no trace exists on the ground,
- The many villas which are used as offices of the government,
- The Marine Club (built in 1939) which is now the headquarters of the General Department of Physical Training and Sports, etc.
The eastern area of Hoan Kiem Lake has many valuable architectural works such as:
- the City Hall (built in 10 years, 1897-1906), now the City People’s Committee,
- Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture ( built from 1897 to 1907), which is now the Bo Ho International Post Office,
- the houses on the Paul Bert Street, now is Trang Tien Street,
- the Opera House (built from 1901 to 1911),
- the Supreme Court ( built in 1912),
- the Palace of Governer (North Governer’s Palace, built in 1918), now is the Government Guest House…
There are also public works such as:
- Hang Co station, built in 1902, is now Hanoi Railway Station,
- Dong Duong and Van Nam train company, now is the headquarter of Vietnam General Union,
- K-radium Hospital.
The West area of Hoan Kiem Lake has:
- the Cathedral (built from 1883 to 1891),
- the building of Ha Noi Moi newspaper office (44 Le Thai To),
- the headquarter of the Hoan Kiem District Police Department, and
- the neighborhood of the public in the area of Nha Chung and Church streets.
In the south of Hoan Kiem Lake, there are nearly 100 large villas on Tran Hung Dao, Phan Chu Trinh, Ly Thuong Kiet, Hai Ba Trung and Ngo Quyen streets … which used to be the residence of high-ranking French and Vietnamese officials.
Present status of French Quarter in Hanoi
When the French stopped their administrative and military presence in Hanoi and Vietnam, the French Quarter was managed by the Vietnam Government. The former office of the colonial government is now used as the workplace of the new government. Some villas have been used as offices. Some of them are used as accommodation.
Among the villas used for housing, over time the population increases. The old mansions no longer meet the living needs of their users. They have to find different ways to improve their living conditions. The simplest method is to build new parts of the building on the remaining space of the villa’s campus or expand the attic or loft. And the new equipment in the interior is added: air conditioning, modern bathtub, water heater. The villas have been deformed, distorted, lost their original value.
Besides, due to business demand, people have destroyed a few parts of the villas, especially the areas adjacent to the streets, to renovate them into stores. Many surrounding walls were demolished and the gardens of the villas were turned into shops, eateries, cafes. And many villas were completely destroyed to build modern buildings. The number of villas for living has been decreasing because of the process of demolition and renovation.
However, many people in Hanoi try to repaired, restored to some villas and old buildings. This remodeling is primarily for business purposes to open restaurants, hotels, and offices. Therefore, when tourists come to the French Quarter, they still see the old buildings on the streets of Ba Dinh and Hoan Kiem districts.
What to do in the Hanoi French Old Quarter
The French Quarter is a typical area in Hanoi, Vietnam. It is a cultural heritage, especially cultural architecture and urban planning in this city. This quarter is a famous tourist destination in Hanoi and attracts thousands of visitors coming here every day.
It is great to explore and take pictures of the French influence buildings.
Another activity is to sit down at a famous coffee to taste a cup of egg coffee which is a very famous drink in Hanoi and watch the local life going up and down.
And, you stop at nice restaurants to enjoy your dinner. You can check Au Delice Restaurant (Opening hours: 09:00 – 22:00, at 2B Ngo Thi Nham, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi), La Terrasse Du Metropole (Opening hours: 11:00 – 22:00, at 15 Ngo Quyen Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi), and Sen Restaurant (Opening hours: 18:00 – 22:00, at 60 Ly Thai To Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi).
Go shopping in the French Quarter is also a great time because it has many modern shops with high-quality products of many famous brands in Vietnam as well as in the world. The top one of this place is Trang Tien Plaza at 24 Hai Ba Trung Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi.
At night, some rich bars attract many guests who like active life at night in Hanoi to spend their time here. The guests include the local and tourists.