Under the pines

19/11/2019 10:14

Dalat, dubbed "The City of Flowers", is even more charming thanks to its magnificent French architecture


Built by the French over a century ago, Dalat's old villas and buildings have stood the test of time. When they planned Dalat as a holiday resort for high-ranking officials in the South, French architects decided to build villas representing the architectural styles of different French regions. Rather than copy original structures, the authorities built churches, administrative headquarters, train stations, and colleges that linked European romanticism with the local culture in such a way that even today, visitors admire their beauty.

The Pedagogical College of Dalat is a typical example. This unique structure is unlike any other. It is shaped like an arc with a bell tower at one end. Construction began in 1927, at which point the college was called Petit Lycée Dalat. The name changed to Grand Lycée Yersin. French and Vietnamese children were educated here. The college was recognized as one of the top thousand most unique buildings in the world by the Union of International Architects (UIA). Standing tall under a deep blue sky, the red-brick building has a tiled roof and windows lining a long hallway. It is a great spot for photos. Unfortunately, the College no longer allows visitors inside the campus.

Another Dalat landmark is the Rooster Church. Its official name is St. Nicholas Cathedral, but local people and tourists still prefer the nickname, which refers to the big rooster at the top of the cathedral’s bell tower. If viewed from the road around Xuan Huong Lake, the tower stands tall and proud, showing off its elegant bell tower. As we move closer, the cathedral's classic architecture seems to draw us in. The cathedral stands in the center of the city, like a lighthouse guiding lost ships back home. Meanwhile, Cam Ly Church, which is located deep in the forest, attracts admirers of classic beauty with its small size and unique architectural mix, influenced by European culture and the spirit of traditional communal houses in the highlands.

Palace I, Palace II, Queen Nam Phuong Palace and the Lam Dong Museum should also not be overlooked. These are treasures of the highlands culture, originally built to help turn Dalat into the "Domaine de la Couronne" (royal domain), where the political power of Vietnam’s last feudal dynasty was concentrated.

With the flow of time, the political plots of the past may gradually be forgotten, but the architecture remains timeless and is still admired. At Palace I and Palace II, visitors can marvel at gothic-style windows, and the meeting room, dining room, and bedrooms of a king who was more skilled in hunting and dancing than managing the nation’s affairs. If compared to today's interiors, the bedrooms of the king, queen, and princess seem modest, but in the early 20th century, it was quite a feat to bring features of European architecture to this land of pine trees. The winding staircase, corridors with elegant windows, and classical statues in corners tell a silent story of a tumultuous time, a glorious era that only lives in memories.  

Other must-see spots in Dalat include the villas on Hung Vuong Road and Tran Hung Dao Road. Some have been seriously damaged, some remain intact but dilapidated, and others have been restored to their original state and turned into tourist spots.

Visitors can choose to stay in a house with a fireplace, wooden floors, and windows overlooking fields of green grass and bright yellow wild sunflowers under pine trees. They will recall this place fondly and agree that the nickname of “dreamy city” is truly fitting. While Dalat now suffers from over-construction, since this exclusive resort city has gradually become a popular tourist spot, it still retains its signature architectural structures, allowing visitors to appreciate this old town's charm. 
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