Located on the campus of the Archbishop’s Palace (180 Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City), there is an old house hidden in many adjacent high-rise zones. The house was built by Emperor Nguyen Anh for Pierre Joseph Georges Pigneau, a French Catholic priest, also known as Pierre Pigneaux or Ba Da Loc, to teach Prince Nguyen Phuc Canh right after they both returned from France in 1789. Pierre Pigneaux is also best known for his role in assisting Nguyen Anh to establish the Nguyen Dynasty in Vietnam, following the defeat of the Tay Son dynasty.
Initially, the house was built on the Thi Nghe Canal, within the precincts of today’s Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens. After Pierre Pigneaux passed away (1799), it was used as accommodation for other priests and a storage facility for military equipment.
In 1864 the French built the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden, so the house was moved to Alexandre de Rhodes street. In 1900 after the Archbishop’s Palace was built, the house was moved to the site of today.
In 1897, when referring to that tiled wooden house, Mr. Truong Vinh Ky – Vietnamese scholar – dubbed the house: Tan Xa Palace. When the Archbishop’s Palace was completed in 1911, the house was used as a chapel.
Tan Xa Palace is considered the oldest house in Saigon with the age of more than 200 years. The building is made entirely of precious wood, the frame is closely linked together entirely by using joinery that did not require a single nail.
Although it was built to serve Catholic worship, the house has still followed the viewpoint of building traditional Vietnamese houses.
The house is built in the traditional Vietnamese architecture with three compartments and two lean-tos within an area of 136 m2. The roof is roofed with yin-yang tiles with sophisticated motifs. The front roof is made of green glazed tiles, with reliefs of two dragons and the Cross. Regarding the meaning of the relief above, some researchers believe they represent a combination of Western religious and Eastern beliefs.
The door frames and doors are made of precious wood, with delicate carvings of the phoenix, dragons, and flowers.
Inside the house, many household items such as tables, chairs, cabinets, screens … have been well-preserved and are in good condition. At the middle of the house, there is an altar with the original decor has been retained. Only some of the chandeliers have been replaced because the old one was damaged. Similarly, the tiled roof has also been partially replaced in the last restoration in 2014. However, the oldest house in Saigon still retains its architectural art.
Today, the house is the place of worshiping open on Sundays or and weekday mornings.
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