One of the world's youngest major cities, Saigon nevertheless holds a rich and dramatic history. A fortified trading post, a colonial capital, a focal point of the American-Vietnamese conflict, an up and coming exemplar of Asian economic prosperity, it is a city of metamorphoses.
The name Saigon, of uncertain origin, dates from 1698, when the emperor of Vietnam established an outpost here, along the bends of the Saigon River. In 1862 the city was conquered by the French, who made it the capital of their protectorate of Cochinchina. In 1954, with the military defeat of the French by the Vietnamese independence forces, Saigon became the capital of South Vietnam. It was during this time that it acquired the nickname of "the Pearl of the Orient," for its elegance, diversity, and prosperity.
In 1975, following the Vietnamese War (known to the Vietnamese as "the American War"), the greater metropolis of Saigon was renamed for Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the North Vietnamese forces.
Physically, the city continued unscathed through all these conflicts. Perhaps the most European of Asian cities, it contains hundreds of colonial-era buildings, and wide boulevards. Now the economic powerhouse of Vietnam, will it offer an example of how to reconcile preservation and dynamism?