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Unique Cantonese Assembly Hall in Hanoi’s Old Quarter
Jenna Duong 09:29, 2023/07/26
The centuries-old relic is a testament to brilliant development of former Thang Long Imperial Citadel in the early 20th century.

The Arts and Culture Center at No.22 Hang Buom Street, also known as the "Cantonese Assembly Hall", is a hidden gem in Hanoi's Old Quarter thanks to its exceptional architecture that is a confluence of Vietnamese, Chinese and French cultures.

Present-day cultural jewel

Used to be a Cantonese Assembly Hall in Hanoi, the house at No.22 Hang Buom Street becomes a center of culture and art in Hanoi. Photo: Dong Quan 

"The house at No.22 Hang Buom Street is like a whirlpool, drawing in all the ups and downs of the history of this street. It holds all the stories of life and the street, of the past and the present, of the European rain and the Asian wind, of the Ke Cho people [Hanoians of the past], of the overseas Chinese, and of today's Hanoians," reads part of the introduction to the Khong Gian Ky Uc No.22 Hang Buom exhibition.

Today, the Arts and Culture Center at No.22 Hang Buom is the venue for impressive art exhibitions. Some notable examples include Phieu Dieu (Drifting), Ky Hoa Pho Co 2021 (Sketches of the Old Quarter 2021), Ha Noi la... (Hanoi is...), Khong Gian Ky Uc 22 Hang Buom (Space of Memories at 22 Hang Buom), and Photo Hanoi'23 - Biennale.

With free admission and open daytime everyday a week, these exhibitions have attracted many visitors for cultural values and unusual photo spots. The center also serves as a multicultural destination for young people to learn about historical and cultural traditions.

When visiting the former Cantonese Assembly Hall, Laura Armstrong, a tourist from Australia, said enthusiastically: "I have visited Hanoi twice in two consecutive years because I love to discover its ancient beauty. This heritage is truly a 'hidden gem' that captures the history of Hanoi."

It is also a favorite check-in point of locals. Photo: Bich Ngoc

Similarly, Tra My, a Vietnamese student from Mainz, Germany, shared her experience with The Hanoi Times: "As a Vietnamese student in Germany, it's a rare opportunity for me to learn about Vietnamese history in such a short trip back to Hanoi. It's interesting to learn that Tuoi Tho Kindergarten used to be a large Cantonese Assembly Hall like this one. I was so excited to be able to take pictures in such a wonderful space with many beautiful photo corners and free admission.

The restoration of the Cantonese Assembly Hall is a great success in preserving the capital's cultural relics. For Hanoi, attractions such as the Arts and Culture Center at 22 Hang Buom play an important role in attracting tourists from near and far.

One-of-a-kind architecture

With a total area of about 1,800 square meters, the first impression visitors get from the Cantonese Assembly Hall is of a large space that still retains many ancient features and harmoniously blends the cultures of Vietnam, China and France. The relic is composed of several compartments according to the structure of the original hall.

 The funky architecture of the former Cantonese Assembly Hall in the heart of Hanoi. Photo: Nhin Shine 

Walkways and corridors run along both sides of the building. In the front yard, a giant dragon plum tree provides welcome shade. In the center are the front hall, the central hall, and the sanctuary. The typical architecture of ancient assembly halls is preserved, with courtyards surrounded by main buildings and side corridors in the shape of the Chinese character 口 (or mouth in English) - for natural light and airiness.

Upon entering the main hall, visitors feel as if they are stepping into a Western cathedral. The nave is wide with two wings to the east and west, where Western architectural features are clearly shown through reliefs modeled on Doric columns and Greek laurel wreaths.

In addition, the stained glass windows here are accompanied by exterior shutters - a feature of French architecture often found in old French villas in Hanoi.

The houses here are decorated with delicate ceramic reliefs depicting important stories in the culture of Guangzhou in particular and China in general, such as the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

The today's wonderful space for art and cultural exchange in Hanoi. Photo: Nhi Shine 

Above, the roofs are covered with elegant Chinese glazed tiles. Whistle, the colorful ceramic reliefs on the wall of the front hall, were created during renovations in the 1920s.

In short, the combined architectural features of East and West create a serene, ethereal space in the heart of the bustling old town.

Centuries of history

Located at 22 Hang Buom Street, Hang Buom Ward, Hoan Kiem District, the Cantonese Assembly Hall was founded about 400 years ago by the Cantonese community that settled in Ha Khau Ward, Huu Tuc Canton, Tho Xuong District (currently Hang Ngang, Hang Buom, Hang Bo and Lan Ong Streets).

According to local historians, the place used to be a place for religious activities of Chinese expatriates, as well as a place for trading, negotiations and arbitration of commercial disputes.

In the 20th century, historical changes began to creep into the meeting place - Ancestral Hall, as it witnessed the convergence of the destinies of two nations: Vietnam and China.

Part of the hall. Photo: Nhi Shine

After the country’s reunification in 1975, the space of the Cantonese Assembly Hall was expropriated for Tuoi Tho Kindergarten in 1978. In 2018, the kindergarten was removed and the Assembly Hall was restored. At the end of 2021, the Arts and Culture Center at No. 22 Hang Buom Street was officially opened, partly to host exhibitions.

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