Part 6

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ARRIVAL OF THE FRENCH

visitor. These houses had a horizontal look, wide doors and brief overhanging roofs to imitate classical Italian architecture. Few were built in Hanoi in this style, as they didn’t work well in the city’s harsh, humid climate.

Early on, all of Hanoi’s new streets were numbered, more than three hundred of them. Gradually, the numbers were replaced with the names of French notables, particularly generals and former governors of Indochina: Boulevard Felix Faure, honouring the president of the French Republic (1895-1899); Boulevard de l’Admiral Courbet; Rue Henri-Riviere, who had captured the Citadel; Rue General Leclanger; Rue Capitaine Labrousse. Streets having Vietnamese names were changed to French names. Well, Indochina was now a little bit of France in the tropics, although to put it mildly; the Vietnamese never saw it quite that way.

What a contrast the lovely trees and lavish, spacious villas along these new streets must have presented to the Vietnamese living in the Old Quarter’s narrow, compact, almost treeless lanes, heaving with Vietnamese families living almost on top of one another.

The French Quarter gradually crept northward on both sides of Hoan Kiem Lake, virtually to the southern edge of the Thirty-Six Streets along the north bank of the lake. To the west, it extended even beyond the Citadel, stopped only in the north by West Lake.

It is little wonder that the Vietnamese hated them so much. As well as having seized political control, the French were destroying homes and displacing families. Moreover, the Vietnamese people were forced to pay heavy taxes to support all this ambitious construction of infrastructure.

In the second stage of urban development, French government administration buildings began to be built. The architect, Auguste-Henri Vildieu, head of Civil Construction in Indochina (1892-1906), as the designer for a colonial regime anxious to assert its power renounced the utilitarianism of the 1880s and instead relied upon the solidity
and decorative vocabulary of Neo-Classical architecture to command the attention of the Vietnamese masses. Buildings constructed under his regime reflect his rather austere if grand taste for horizontal and Vertical lines, a style almost devoid of ostentatious decoration, modelled to suit a hot humid climate: large mullioned windows to
Provide airflow with protective protruding frames, roofs of slate or tile.