French Influences in Hanoi

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French Influences in Hanoi

Explore the French beauty in the heart of Hanoi


The heritages and influences left by the French during their ruling in Vietnam have never failed to fascinate history lovers. Hanoi – the beautiful capital city of Vietnam – is one of the places that are strongly influenced by French culture in terms of architecture, religion, cuisine and writing system. Let’s take a journey back in time to discover most outstanding and notable French influences in Hanoi.

1) Architecture

Besides the colourful ancient buildings of the East, the beauty of French architecture plays an integral part in the development of Hanoi.
Architectures from the French colonial period are the must-visit destinations for anyone coming to Hanoi. When the French immigrated to Indochina, they decided to transform Hanoi into a centre of administration, culture and economy. Therefore, many large projects were carefully and complicated constructed. Universities, theatres, administrative offices, hospitals to the villas … still retain its value and beauty to this day, giving Hanoi a distinctive and unique appearance. 
The architectural journey begins at the University of Pharmacy on Le Thanh Tong Street. The University of Pharmacy today was previously known as Indochina University, designed by French architect Ernest Hebrard. The building was built in 4 years (1923-1926) and affected by the architectural style of Indochina, with Asia-Europe interference. You can easily recognize the multi-layer tile roof in the octagonal style of Eastern architecture. Supported the roofs are the door decorated with patterns and paintings in the Western style. Inside are numerous corridors, dome ceilings, halls and stairs that bear strong influence of French style. 
The next stop of your journey to explore French influences in Hanoi is Hanoi Opera House, also known under the name of “Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica” – an impressive symbol of French architecture in Hanoi. The French started to build the Opera House in 1901 and completed in 1911. The theatre was designed in the form of the Opéra Garnier Theater in Paris, but smaller and use materials suitable for local climatic conditions.
The massive work of two famous architects Harlay and Broyer resulted in a colourful architectural outline of theatres in the south of France. The way of organizing space, performance area, stairs, entrance hall … is similar to the theatres in Europe in the early twentieth century. Hanoi Opera House still remains the neoclassical French classic look, especially in the architectural structure with two-tone roof tiles of black stone with decorative motifs inside.
There would be a big mistake not to visit Long Bien Bridge – the largest bridge in Asia at that time and an outstanding symbol of French influences in Hanoi – during your architectural journey. The bridge is 2,290 in length that crosses over the river and 896 m in router, including 19 steel beams spanning 20 towers of 40 m (including foundations) and stone paths. The space for the railroad runs in the middle while the other two sides are roads for motor vehicles and walkways. Moreover, the bridge had undergone many destructions and renovations due to the Vietnam-US wars. 
Over a hundred years of existence, Long Bien Bridge has become increasingly degraded and considered a historical witness of a century of Hanoi history. The bridge overlooks the beautiful view of the Red River, the middle beach and is an unforgettable destination for visitors when visiting the capital.
Furthermore, there are countless places to enjoy “A corner of France in the East” such as the Reunification Express – the railway line between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, National Historical Museum, St. Joseph’s Cathedral and so on.

2) Cuisine

Apart from the architectural influences, the French have also contributed to the rich, attractive and diverse picture of Vietnamese cuisine. Many French dishes have been “Vietnamese” to suit the taste of the Vietnamese people and gradually become familiar and popular food choices. These followings are the top three most notable and wonderful dishes that are certain to bring the fresh breath of French influences in Hanoi.
Beefsteak is transliterated from the word “beefsteak” (English) and “bifteck” (French), brought by the French in Vietnam from the 18th century. In the past, people could only enjoy beefsteak in luxurious restaurants. However, since the beefsteak has stripped off its luxury coat, it has become a popular dish that attracts a great number of food lovers around the world because of its tenderness and richness. A full potion of beefsteak consists of beef, potato, pate, egg yolks, bread and is served with chilli sauce and soy sauce. 
Bread sandwiched with omelette and pate is another delicious food choice during your culinary journey in Hanoi. The dish, derived from French cuisine, is skillfully blended and altered by the Vietnamese in harmony with the distinctive tastes of the three basic ingredients – bread, omelette and pate. In addition, due to the simplicity in the making process, pate and omelette is put into the bread, along with salt, soy sauce or pickle, making it a well-known fast food suitable for all ages. 
Speaking of sweet desserts, the most influential French-style dish in Hanoi is caramelSince the French brought into Vietnam, the caramel has gradually prevailed in the cities as a delicious, attractive dessert. Caramel (French: flan and crème caramel) is a mixture of eggs, milk and sugar (caramel) and steamed. Not only caramel is a nutritious food for children and pregnant women, but also an indispensable street food in the list of Vietnamese cuisine. 

3) Language system

Unlike the advent of “Nôm” language – an expression of the vital will of the national spirit in terms of literary language – the Vietnamese Roman Alphabet was born in a completely different context.
History has confirmed that not the Vietnamese Alphabetformed by the demands of Vietnamese life, but in fact, the letters were created in the general direction of the Western missionaries. They wanted to Latinize the East Asia language system in their missionary area, including Vietnam, which began the invasion and colonial rule of France with Vietnam 80 years later
According to many prestigious linguistic researchers, the “birth” of Vietnamese Roman Alphabet must be a common work of many, including the Spanish, Portuguese and France. But the most credible of these was French philosopher Alexandre de Rhodes, who himself was the first to print books in the Vietnamese Roman language, which then used to be the first dictionary that allowed the later generations to gain access to the material with the purpose of learning and doing research.
From a tool for evangelization, the Vietnamese Roman Alphabet became a weapon of aggression, assimilation of culture that French colonialism had carried out on the Vietnamese people after the invasion of Vietnam

4) Religion

In terms of religion, the French influences in Hanoi express through the introduction of Roman Catholicism, which first arrived in Vietnam in the early 16th century in Nam Dinh (the Le dynasty) by Spanish and Portuguese missionaries, then France, even before Vietnam was a French colony. Later, the French government did not encourage people to follow any religion, but they guaranteed the right to religious freedom for the first time in Vietnam
The French influences in Vietnam on four aspects – architecture, cuisine, language system and religion – have contributed greatly to the diverse development and history of Vietnam.