Sai Gon’s oldest house is located on the premises of the Bishop’s Office, which is on 180 Nguyen Dinh Chieu street, district 3, Ho Chi Minh city.
The house has been renovated several times, the last renovation being in 1980, but its original shape and appearance have not changed from two hundred years ago. At the end of the 18th century, mandarins of the Nguyen regine often lived in houses of a similar design with three sections and two outbuildings. Short beams and yin-yang tiles were incorporated into the traditional Vietnamese wooden architecture; its walls were once made of diagonally-places wooden planks. These walls provides both good protection and effective ventilation.
After 1945, workers replaced the wooden walls with brick ones because termites had eaten the wood. During restoration in 1980, craftsmen removed the inner worm-eaten parts of pillars and filled them with reinforced concrete. However they kept the pillars’ cracked wooden surface intact so that the pillars still look old. The workers also raised the bases of the pillars thirty centimeters.
Nguyen Anh (1762-1820), who later became King Gia Long, had this house built in 1790 as a residence for Pierre Pigneau de Behaine, Bishop of Adran. The Bishop had supported Nguyen Anh in his fight against the Tay Son peasant movement. Here, the bishop also tutored Prince Canh, Nguyen Anh’s son. Original the house was located by the Thi Nghe Canal near the present Thao Cam park. In 1799, after Pierre Pigneau died, another French bishop tool over the house, but its was closed between 1811 and 1864 because the Hue Royal Court banned Catholicism. After a later Nguyen King signed a treaty with the French, the house was handed over to the Bishop’s Office and moved to Alexandre de Rhodes street near the Cathedral. In 1900, the house was moved again, along with the bishop’s office, to its current site, where it is used as a prayer house.
Much can be learned from viewing this house because the restorers were careful to keep its original design. Unfortunately, poor restoration has distorted the original shapes of some other historic buildings in Sai Gon.