The maps presented here are keys to the understanding of Ho Chi Minh City’s successive stages of urbanisation, from the first maps of Saigon and Cholon drawn during the French period, to the Master Plan of the Ho Chi Minh City region up to 2025. These maps allow us to understand the scale of spatial expansion in the city and also offer perspectives for future development. We’d like to thank CEFURDS and the Institut d’Asie Orientale for making their image collections available to the exhibition organisers.

The “Map of Saigon and its surrounding areas”

2.15-carte 1862
Map 2.1: Map of Saigon and its surrounding areas in 1862

This map was compiled by a French marine rifleman sergeant on 2 January 1862 and approved by Colonel Coffyn who was the author of the urban plan for “A city of 500,000 souls in Saigon.” This map represents the two urban centres of Saigon and Chợ Lớn before the realisation of the Coffyn Plan. The map shows: the principle urban fabric of the residential zones as well as the river, creek and canl network of Saigon (formerly called Bến Nghé) and Chơ Lớn (indicated on the map as “Ville chinoise”). The Chơ Lớn area here is coloured in different shades of pink (dark pink north of the Lò Gốm creek, light pink to the south of it) to represent different population densities alongside the waterway.

Water has always been a prominent feature in Saigon-Chợ Lớn, which in colonial times was infested with lagoons, lakes, wetlands and arroyos. From its origins, therefore, Saigon (formerly known as Bến Nghé) has always been a settlement with a dense hydrographic system, giving rise to a network of natural waterways which criss-crossed the city – the arroyo de l’Avalanche (Thị Nghè creek) to the north, the Saigon river to the east, and the arroyo Chinois (Tàu Hủ-Bến Nghé creek) and the arroyo Lo-Gom (Lò Gốm creek) south of the conurbation of Chợ Lớn, as well as several other waterways of lesser importance.

The Thị Nghè creek (formerly the arroyo de l’Avalanche) meanders through the north of the town and empties into the Saigon River. Its downstream segment is known as the Nhiêu Lộc. This waterway served as a natural northern boundary for metropolitan Saigon.

The Tàu Hủ-Bến Nghé creek (formerly the arroyo Chinois) stretches from the Lò Gốm creek in the west to the Saigon river in the east and marks the natural southern limit of metropolitan Saigon. Along the arroyo Chinois there were once several small tributaries such as Cầu Kho, Ong Nhỏ and Ong Lớn.

Along the Saigon river, between the mouth of the arroyo de l’Avalanche and that of the arroyo Chinois, a large network of canals was dug, connecting the 1790 Gia Định Citadel with both the Saigon river and the arroyo Chinois. This system of inter-urban waterways disappeared in the early colonial period to create the central streets of the city, now Lê Lợi, Nguyễn Huệ, Hàm Nghi and Pasteur.

The “Topographical map of the 20th Arrondissement and its surrounding areas”

This map was published in 1882 under the auspices of Monsieur Boilloux, Sub-Inspector of Land and Director of the Cadastre of Gia Định, under the orders of Cochinchina Governor Charles Le Myre de Vilers.

The map, drawn to the scale of 1:20000, provides information on the road and river systems of the era as well as administrative boundaries. It shows the names of places and administrative divisions, but also gives the location of major architectural works such as bridges, churches, pagodas and temples and indicates residential areas on the outskirts of the city.


The “Map of Saigon-Cholon” of 1923


This map was drawn up by the Service Géographique de l’Indochine, based on aerial photos by the Service Aéronautique. Printed in December 1923, it represents the metropolis of Saigon-Chợ Lớn and its immediate surroundings. Realised on a scale of 1:10000, the map is provided with a little ruler for calculating distances and also comes with a key denoting major landmarks. This map provides various different types of information. such as altitude (contour lines at 1m intervals to show elevation), hydrographic systems, roads, residential zones, administrative boundaries and site names (names of streets, rivers/creeks/canals, administrative divisions). It also includes additional information such as names of architectural works (public buildings, barracks, churches, hospitals, markets), indicating their location using a numerical key – for example the Treasury (Nos 44, 45), the Customs House (No 85), the Law Courts (No 78), the Central Prison (No 72), the Post Office (No 35) and the Town Hall (No 69).

We can also observe on this map the appearance of railway lines (Chemins de fer de l’Indochine) as well as two newly dug waterways – the Canal de dérivation (Tẻ canal) of 1905 and the canal de doublement (Đôi canal) of 1912.

Map of the “Saigon Capital”

2.16-Cef-M91B Do thanh Sai Gon  (Capital Saigon) 1958, Part 1_2
2.17-Cef-M91C Do thanh Saigon (Capital Saigon) 1958, Part 2_2

This map was produced by the National Geographic Directorate and published for the first time in 1958. Created on the scale 1:10,000 with Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) co-ordinates and printed in two sheets, it represents a modified version of a 1956 map and was created using aerial photos taken by the Institut Géographique Français in 1953 and geodetic measurements taken in the capital in 1957. The only modifications made involved geodetic data, reference co-ordinates, names of sites and administrative data..

The map shows the urban area of Saigon-Chợ Lớn bounded to the north by Phú Nhuận and the Nhiêu Lộc creek, to the south by the junction between the Đôi canal and the Lò Gốm and Bà Phò creeks, to the east by the Thủ Thiêm peninsula and the confluence of Tẻ canal; and to the west by the Cát, An Lạc and Tân Hòa Đông creeks.

The map identifies and differentiates between the various types of thoroughfare (sealed asphalt roads, paved roads, dirt roads, paths), buildings (houses in masonry, wood, thatch) and provides topographic information on the territory (rivers, vegetation cover, rubber plantations, bushes, reeds, paddy fields, swampy areas). It also contains the names of administrative buildings.

Map of 1965

2.19-Sai Gon 1965

This map made in 1966-67 represents Nhà Bè-Saigon in 1965 and comprises two sheets: Nhà Bè (No 6330-III-ĐB) and Saigon (No 6330-IV-ĐN). Drawn to the scale 1:25000 using aerial photographs taken in 1956, it belongs to the L8015 series and was printed in first edition by the Đà Lạt National Geographic Sub-Directorate in November 1968.

These sheets present the space between the parallels 10º37’30” and 10º52’ N and the meridians 106º37’30” and 106º45’ E and include:

  • To the south, the commune of Tân Kim in Cần Giuộc Rural District (now part of Long An Province);
  • To the north, the communes of Trung Mỹ Tây and An Phú Đông (District 12);
  • To the west, the commune of Tân Sơn Nhì (Tân Phú District) and the Phú Định quay (District 8);
  • To the east, part of Thanh Đa island (Bình Thạnh District).

This is a topographic map with UTM co-ordinates. It provides topographical data (elevations, waterways etc), information on roads, residential zones, green spaces (forests, plantations, paddy fields, wetlands) as well as information on urbanised zones (houses, rural communities, villages, pagodas, churches) at various sites within administrative boundaries. It is provided with a symbol key and geodesic data. Its scale is indicated in figures and on a scale ruler.

Plan of the city of Saigon, fortified in 1790 by Colonel Victor Olivier

© Institut d’Asie Orientale
Reduction produced by M. Dayot in 1799 from the Grand Map drawn up on the Order of the King in 1795 by M. Brun, engineer of His Majesty. Date: 1799. Author: M. Dayot.

This is one of the oldest known maps of Saigon. It depicts the citadel built for Lord Nguyễn Ánh in 1790 by Victor Olivier de Puymanel, one of the French officers recruited by Monsignor Pigneau de Behaine.

The citadel was designed according to the principles of the Vauban military architecture. The functions of its major internal buildings are identified by letters. Note that residential areas are spread out on all four sides of the citadel, those on the southeast and northeast sides stretching without interruption respectively to the Saigon river and the Thị Nghè creek (arroyo de l’Avalanche).

The citadel was destroyed in 1835 by order of Minh Mạng following the revolt of Lê Văn Khôi. However, given the strategic position of the settlement, in 1836 Minh Mạng built a replacement citadel, considerably smaller than the original, which was called, variously, “Thành Phụng,” “Thành Phượng” or “Thành Gia Định.” This second citadel was destroyed by the French army in 1859.

We can also distinguish, towards the bottom of the map (southwest), the town of Chợ Lớn. It is built along a waterway, later named the “arroyo Chinois” by the French, which represented a major communication route to Saigon. This term Chợ Lớn seems to have appeared relatively late and was first given to the settlement in 1801, when General Lê Văn Duyệt acted as governor of Gia Định.

Map of the city of Saigon

Date: 1860, extracted from the journal Tour du Monde (1861).

The map is captioned as follows: “Walled in 1790 by Colonel V Olivier. Reduced from the Grand Map drawn up in 1795 by Order of the King of Cochinchina by M. Brun, engineer.” On this map, the north-south axis is shifted approximately 90° to the right.

This map is a reworking of the one drawn by M. Dayot in 1799, itself drawn from the original map created by engineer M. Brun in 1795. However, it is more accurate and also indicates land use in and around Saigon and Chợ Lớn. It also distinguishes the two forts which defend the entrance to the city on either side of the Saigon river. The town of Chợ Lớn is referred to here as the “Bazar Chinois.”

© Institut d’Asie Orientale

Map of Saigon

© Institut d’Asie Orientale.
Date: 1893, extracted from the journal Tour du Monde (1861). Photographer: L. Thuillier

On this map, the north-south axis is again shifted approximately 90° to the right. This map shows the city as it appeared 30 years after the French conquest. We see that by now the city has significantly extended towards the northeast on the one side and towards the southwest (along the arroyo Chinois) on the other.

Most of the characteristic elements of the colonial city are already visible, whether they be iconic roads like boulevards Charner or Norodom or the station where passengers could take the Chợ Lớn tram or the Mỹ Tho train. The park of the Governor’s Palace and the Botanic Gardens are the two major green spaces in the city.

Finally, the buildings of the Messageries maritimes, located at the mouth of the arroyo Chinois, mark Saigon’s maritime gateway and an important commercial hub. Note that a barracks and parade ground have been built on the site of the old citadel which was destroyed in 1859.

Map of the city of Saigon (Cochinchine)

Date: 1900 Publisher: John Bartholomew & Co.

On this map too, the north-south axis is shifted approximately 90° to the right. This is a very accurate map which includes many details of streets and buildings. When compared with that depicted on the 1893 map of L. Thuillier, the city does not appear much larger. Note that the tram line which previously terminated near the roundabout on quai Primauguet now extends far beyond Đa Kao, in the direction of Gò Vấp.

© Institut d’Asie Orientale.

Map of Saigon and Cholon

Date: 1923 Publisher: Reproduction from the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

This is a very accurate map of the two cities of Saigon and Chợ Lớn. Although linked by a road network of increasing density, they still appear clearly differentiated, separated from each other by wide expanses of rice fields as well as the “Plain of Tombs.” However, one notes a densification of urbanisation north of Saigon (the entire south shore of the arroyo de l’Avalanche has been urbanised).

It is still possible to see the imprint of the old citadel, located near the Botanic Garden. Chợ Lớn also appears to have grown in size and its general shape already evokes the future 5th District of HCMC.

© Institut d’Asie Orientale.

Map of Saigon

Date: 1947 Publisher: Service Géographique de l’Indochine.

This map shows very accurately the urban development of Saigon in 1947. Saigon and Chợ Lớn (part of which can be seen) are still clearly differentiated, although the urban fabric now appears continuous along the arroyo Chinois. Further north, however, and despite the densification of the access routes between the two cities, there remain vast undeveloped areas as well as residual swampy zones. This map clearly shows the three large green spaces in Saigon, the parc Maurice Long, the parkland which surrounds the palace of the Governor General and the Botanic Gardens.

© Institut d’Asie Orientale.

Map of the city of Saigon

© Institut d’Asie Orientale.
Date: 1964 Photographer: Direction of Engineering, USARPAC, U.S. Army Map Service, Far East. Publisher: Army Map Service, Corps of Engineers.

This very detailed map shows the spread of Saigon in the mid 1960s and also highlights the urban junction reached in the mid 20th century between the cities of Saigon and Chợ Lớn. In 1931, indeed, the Saigon-Chợ Lớn Region was placed under the direct authority of the Governor of Cochinchina and administered on his behalf by a prefect. In December 1941, the two municipalities of Saigon and Chợ Lớn merged into a single urban area and in 1956 this entire entity took the name Saigon. The map does not show districts (quận), but the administrative city limits (dotted lines) are clearly denoted.

Drawn up primarily for military use, this map is very accurate and provides details of buildings and lines of communication in the city. We can draw a clear distinction between dense residential areas (shown in grey) and those where more scattered buildings predominate. Note that the latter correspond in part to the old colonial town. We also note the presence of rubber plantations between Chợ Lớn and Tân Sơn Nhất Airport. Finally, one of the main characteristics of the map is to highlight (in red) the main axes permitting entry into, crossing and exit from the city, revealing the strategic concerns of its authors.

Map of the city of Saigon

© Institut d’Asie Orientale.
Date: 1966 Publisher: unknown

An interesting colour map (very typical of the Saigonese press of the 1960s) which allows us to visualise the eight districts of Saigon. We note that Districts 1 and 2 correspond to the modern District 1; that the 5th and 6th Districts still include parts of the modern 10th and 11th Districts; that the 3rd District includes also a part of today’s 10th District; and that Districts 4 and 8 remained unchanged (the 8th, however, having since expanded to the detriment of the 7th).

The map also shows clearly the Saigon river and the many adjacent creeks (rạch) and canals (kênh). However, since it focuses mainly on the streets and avenues, it is not possible for us to identify the most important buildings of the city. Finally, we note that the Tân Sơn Nhất Airport, located further north and not featured on the map, is not included within the administrative boundaries of the city.

Map of HCMC

Date: 1988 Publisher: Nhà xuất bản Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh.

This map, drawn up after the reunification of the country, presents some slight changes relative to the maps from before 1975. We first note the disappearance of the 2nd District in favour of the 1st and of the 7th District in favour of the 8th. The 6th District also appears significantly extended towards the west of the city. Finally, we note the appearance of several new districts which were previously outside the city limits – Gò Vấp, Bình Thạnh, Phú Nhuận and Tân Bình, the latter including the Tân Sơn Nhất Airport.

© Institut d’Asie Orientale.

Map of HCMC

Date: 1992

This map for Chinese visitors was based on the 1988 map but incorporated information in the Chinese language. It was published in the same year that normal diplomatic relations between Việt Nam and China were restored. Being a tourist map, it points out all the information required to guide visitors around the city.

© Institut d’Asie Orientale.

Evolution of the districts of Saigon between 1960 and 1970

Date: 1973-1975

This map, printed in vibrant colours like many other maps of the period, shows the evolution of the districts of Saigon between the years 1960 and 1970. We note the appearance of the 10th and 11th Districts at the expense of the 3rd, 5th and 6th Districts, while the 2nd District remains unchanged.

We also note the appearance of the 9th District, which then corresponded with the Thủ Thiêm peninsula. This is interesting because at this time the peninsula was not urbanised and later maps do not mention it as a separate district. Thủ Thiêm would later be reclassified as the 2nd District with the 9th District as a northeastward continuation of it.

© Institut d’Asie Orientale.

Map of HCMC

Date: 2010 Publisher: Nhà Xuất bản Bản đồ.

This map permits a change of scale and thus visualization of the entire territory corresponding to the modern city-province of HCMC. We note in particular the emergence of new districts: the 7th situated south of the 4th and 9th, the 2nd bordering Thủ Đức, the 12th north of Gò Vấp. The city-province now has a direct opening to the sea, although its new southernmost district of Cần Giờ is a largely marshy area with little urbanisation.

© Institut d’Asie Orientale.

Extract from the Master Plan of HCMC towards 2025

This map shows the projected urban expansion of HCMC by 2025. We note the centrality of the Tân Sơn Nhất Airport and also the existence of seven peripheric urban centres (Đức Hòa, Bến Lức, Thủ Dầu Một town, Dĩ An District, Biên Hòa, Huyện Long Thành and Nhơn Trạch city), thus underscoring the massive future expansion of the city-province envisaged by the authorities. We also note the total urbanisation of the Thủ Thiêm peninsula, as well as those areas located upstream and downstream of the Saigon river.


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