Hoi An's architectural development
passed through three stages. The first was early period
as an insignificant village of bamboo shacks, of which none
second period was some time after it expanded into to become
a flourishing commercial port attracting merchant ships
from afar. From the middle of the seventeenth century, the
growing Chinese and Japanese communities began erecting
places of worship, assembly halls and, later, residential
first of these were Chinese assembly halls that also served
as temples for ancestor worship, followed by pagodas dedicated
to the worship of Taoist gods, Confucius and Buddha. As
the town became more prosperous and populous, further assembly
halls and pagodas were built together with fine houses for
merchants who had become full-time residents servicing an
increasing volume of exports and imports.
were built predominantly of wood on a stone foundation.
Those that survive are the architectural heritage that justified
its World Heritage listing and are the main attraction for
the hundreds of thousands of visitors that arrive each year.
architectural styles are based upon that of China and Japan,
but there are also Vietnamese features and some influences
from Europe and other countries that frequented the port.
the port declined during and the number of traders dwindled
during the late 18th century, some of the buildings fell
into disrepair and collapsed. The gaps were in-filled by
unattractive rendered brick structures built in the boxy
main architectural attractions
There is a good municipal museum in the Ancient Town that
is worth a visit, not only in its own right, but also as
a resource of informative guide books at varying prices
and degrees of detail. The following is a brief list of
the most distinctive of the town’s many old buildings.
The most famous is popularly known as the Japanese Covered
Bridge. Unfortunately, the name leads most visitors to overlook
the small pagoda of which it is an integral element. Indeed,
it’s debatable whether it was of Japanese construction at
all. Nevertheless, it’s an attractive structure and is probably
enhanced by the mystery surrounding its origins.
Tran Phu, one of the main streets, has five interesting
assembly halls all on the left hand side with your back
to the bridge. Four are for specific ethnic groups in China,
but the Chinese Assembly Hall is open to all Chinese seafarers.
From the bridge, the Cantonese Assembly Hall is the first
you come to, followed by the Chinese, Fukien, Hainan and,
somewhat further, the Chaozhou Assembly Halls. All combine
social and welfare functions as well as places for ritual
and worship. Each has distinctive features usually relating
to the sea, sailors and shipwrecks.
The many Merchants’ Houses are scattered around the town.
Typically, they are a melangé of Vietnamese, Chinese and
Japanese architecture, each with distinguishing features
and styles of interior decoration. Many combined commercial
and residential functions – a storage and trading area in
the front, and accommodation at the rear. They were usually
long and narrow, with one or two interior open courtyards,
sometimes with decorative pools, providing light and fresh
also contained private temples, either incorporated into
the structure or in a separate building, and family tombs.
houses had extensive lofts, also at the front and used as
warehouses. A few similar structures can be found in Hanoi's
Old Quarter. Apart from that, the architecture of Hoi An's
old houses is a unique example of a blend of many cultural
There are also several pagodas in Hoi An. One of the oldest
is the Ong Hoi An, dating back to at least 1653. Inside,
a huge red-faced effigy of General Quan Cong dominates the
array of statues and votive objects.
to be the first pagoda in Hoi An, the Chuc Thanh was actually
built in 1744, not in thirteenth century as described in
most guide books. The confusion has been traced to an error
by a long-dead artisan who carved the Chinese Emperor’s
name wrongly on the roof beam, thus locating him in a much
earlier dynasty. Nevertheless, it’s well worth a visit.
the other pagodas and temples, you'll find a small Cao Dai
temple tucked away. Comparatively modern, it is an outpost
of Vietnam’s ‘tailor-made religion’ based in the south.
the Truong and the Tran family chapels are interesting.
Both were built by ethnic Chinese people, and reflect the
architectural styles of both China and Japan. The altar
in the Tran chapel has a set of hand carved stone tablets
commemorating the ancestors. The rear garden is a delight
Apart from the municipal museum, housed in an unprepossessing
brick structure, some of the old buildings have been converted
into museums. The Museum of History and Culture is housed
in a redundant pagoda, and provides a good overview of the
town’s development. The Museum of Trade Ceramics, funded
by donations from Japan, is more specialised. It has some
fascinating exhibits of ceramics and porcelain, one of the
mainstays of Hoi An's trading past, and some detailed architectural