It’s claimed by several tourism websites that a gateway from one of the ancient Gia Định citadels has survived and may be viewed on the Đinh Tiên Hoàng/Phan Đăng Lưu street intersection in Bình Thạnh district, close to the Lê Văn Duyệt Mausoleum. However, a little research into the history of that area reveals that the gateway in question has more recent origins.
The gateway, popularly known as the Gia Định Citadel Gate (Cổng thành Gia Định), is built into the outer wall of the Trương Công Định Primary School and does bear a very superficial resemblance to the east gate of the 1837 Gia Định Citadel as depicted in the famous drawing of the French attack of 1859, although clearly it was conceived on a significantly smaller scale.
In fact, since neither the Lũy Bán Bích city walls of 1772 nor the two citadels of 1790 and 1837 (see my earlier post The Citadels of Gia Định) were located anywhere near this neighbourhood, the idea that it ever formed part of those structures may be ruled out.
Old maps reveal that the Trương Công Định Primary School stands on part of the site formerly occupied by the historic Gia Định School of Drawing (École de dessin Gia-Dinh), an applied arts school set up by the French in 1913 to provide continuing studies for graduates of the Thủ Dầu Một School of Indigenous Arts (École d’art indigène de Thu-Dau-Mot, teaching mainly woodwork and lacquerware) and the Biên Hòa School of Arts (École d’art de Bien-Hoa, teaching mainly ceramics and bronzecasting).
An important training ground for many pioneering southern painters and sculptors, it was renamed the Gia Định School of Applied Arts (École des arts décoratifs de Gia-Dinh) in 1940 and after 1954 it became the Gia Định Secondary School of Decorative Arts (Trường Trung học Trang trí Mỹ thuật Gia Định).
After 1955, this Gia Định Secondary School of Decorative Arts became the Sài Gòn National College of Fine Art (Trường Quốc gia Cao đảng Mỹ thuật Sài Gòn) and the original 1913 École de dessin Gia-Dinh building was demolished to make way for a larger and more modern structure.
After Reunification in 1975, the Sài Gòn National College of Fine Art became the Hồ Chí Minh City College of Fine Art (Trường Cao đảng Mỹ thuật Thành Phố Hồ Chí Minh). This institution was upgraded in 1981 to the status of a university.
While the original École de dessin Gia-Dinh building was being demolished in 1955 to make way for a new structure, the art school’s large campus was reduced in size, and the area closest to the junction with Lê Văn Duyệt (now Đinh Tiên Hoàng) street was repurposed to build a new primary school, now the Trương Công Định Primary School.
However, it seems that the attractive old 1913 gateway bearing the name “Gia-Dinh” caught the eye of city planners, who decided to preserve as part of the primary school wall.
Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and also conducts Saigon and Chợ Lớn Heritage Tours.
A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.
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