A little history of The Reunification Palace in Saigon

Blogs - Vietnam: May 23, 2014

Reunification PalaceAround the corridors of the Reunification Palace rush the last employees and soldiers loyal to the regime of South Vietnam, in an atmosphere of desperation while explosions and cannon fire outside come more threatening by the minute. Visiting the basement of the palace, which is now open to public, one can easily imagine the electric atmosphere and fear that impregnated this place forty years ago.

Now the building is a haven of peace. Though located in the heart of Saigon, it is surrounded by a park replete with meandering paths perfect for contemplation. It is surprising that this building has witnessed some of the darkest periods of the country, from the period of French colonization to Japanese occupation before crossing into two successive wars of independence against the French and Americans. From these eddies of history, it has not remain unscathed.

Built between 1868 and 1873, construction took a quarter of the city’s public works budget. Named after the ruling King of Cambodia, the Norodom Palace was intended to demonstrate the colonial empire’s power. Saigon, still a peaceful village with wide avenues, looked to a bright future.

The building was used as the office for the Governor of Cochinchina, otherwise known as the General Governor of French Indochina. At that time, no one suspected that the palace would later pass between successive hands of several owners, whose aspirations would be radically opposed.

First tremors of history knocked on its door on March 9, 1945 during the invasion of Vietnam by Japanese troops where it became the headquarters for the Japanese Imperial troops until the end of World War 2.

Reunification PalaceFrance took back possession of the property in September 1945, but handed it over to the State of Vietnam in 1954, following defeat at Dien Bien Phu and the signing of the Geneva Accords. France handed over the palace to Ngo Dinh Diem, the prime minister of the State of Vietnam who the following year overthrew Bao Dai, the last emperor of Viet Nam, and became president of the Republic of South Vietnam.

On 27 February 1962, shortly after 7 am, two A-1 Skyraider aircraft piloted by two lieutenants of South Vietnamese Air Army bombed the Presidential Palace in an attempt to assassinate President Diem.

The attack was a failure but the building was heavily damaged. President Ngo Dinh Diem then gave the order to demolish it and rebuild a new one. This project was undertaken by winner of the 1995 Prix de Rome, architect Ngo Viet Thu.

Reunification PalaceNgo Dinh Diem never saw the finished building. He was assassinated along with his younger brother Ngo Dinh Nhu in a coup d’etat in 1963. Construction continued after the regime change and building was finished in 1966 and remained presidential residence until April 30 1975, the date that marks the fall of Saigon.

On April 30, 1975, an armored T- 54 North Vietnamese tank smashed through the palace gates, the footage taken by legendary Tasmanian combat cameraman Neil Davis. A soldier jumped from the tank and ran to raise the Vietcong flag on the balcony of the fourth floor, symbolically ending the decade long American War. In November 1975, the war officially ended and to mark the event, the presidential palace was renamed Reunification Palace.

The Reunification Palace is now a public museum where you can see the reception rooms, the office of the former president and the fortified command center in the basement.

The Reunification Palace
35 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, District 1
Opening hours: Open daily from 7:30 to 11:30 and 13:00 to 16:00