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Cột Cờ Thủ Ngữ: Overlooked Saigon Landmark Gets a Makeover

Flanked by a busy road and overshadowed by an unfinished skyscraper, you'd be forgiven if you rarely noticed the Signal Mast (Cột cờ Thủ Ngữ) where Ton Duc Thang and Vo Van Kiet streets intermingle. 

Decades of development have isolated this peninsula from the rest of the District 1 waterfront and nearby pedestrian street. But what looks like a glorified flagpole to most is actually a relic of the earliest days of Saigon, and has seen the city transform form a backwater fishing village into a full-blown metropolis. After a recent facelift, perhaps it will get a bit more attention.

On January 4, the Department of Construction and the Department of Architecture and Planning held an inauguration ceremony following the renovation project, including repairs, repainting, the installation of a light system, and the creation of a new park covering an area of 3,530 square meters. The city hopes that the renovation will facilitate a revival of the site and again become a point of leisure for Saigon's residents.

According to historian Tim Doling, the signal mast was built by Captain Laurent-Joseph Lejeune in October 1865 as a communication tool for vessels on the Saigon river using signal flags. Beyond its intended function, it became an important feature of early colonial Saigon as it "signalled the impending arrival of war, commerce and mail ships, which had been announced by telegraph from cap Saint-Jacques [Vũng Tàu]," wrote Charles Lemire in his 1869 book Cochinchine française et royaume de Cambodge.

The Signal Mast in 1867. Photo via Flickr user manhhai.

The flagpole was replaced in 1900, when it became a popular public space and home to a bar. Later, it was the site of a fierce battle between local forces and British Indian troops in an effort to reestablish French control over the city following the Japanese surrender in 1945.

The Signal Mast in 1921. Photo via Flickr user manhhai.

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