War Remnants Museum (District 3) was formerly Khai Tuong temple where King Minh Mang was born in 1791, when Lord Nguyen Anh was pursued by Tay Son army.
According to the Annals of Buddhist Gia Dinh - Saigon - Ho Chi Minh City 1600-1992 published in 2001, Khai Tuong temple is located on a high hill in Tan Loc Hamlet, Binh Duong, Gia Dinh of old. Initially, this is a small shrine established by a monk named Phat Linh in 1744.
Khai Tuong and Tu An Pagoda nearby (located in Tao Dan Park today) is the tow ancient temples of Saigon, famous for being the shelter of King Gia Long when he had to hide himself from the Tay Son. In particular, Khai Tuong pagoda was where Prince Dam (King Minh Mang) was born.
In 1788, due to Tay Son’s internal contradictions, Nguyen Anh had opportunities to regain Gia Dinh to consolidate forces and fortifications, turning the place into the political centre of the Nguyen Dynasty.
Two years later, while the Gia Dinh citadel being built, the monarchy and bureaucracy in Gia Dinh sheltered in two big temples located close together - Tu An and Khai Tuong. According to some documents, on 25 May 1791, the king’s second wifi - Tran Thi Nhi (Queen Thuan Thien Cao) gave birth to Prince Nguyen Phuc Dam in the Khai Tuong pagoda.
After reunification the country and coming to the crown, King Gia Long renovated the two temples in 1802. To give thanks, the king offered a gilded 2.5 meter Buddha statue made by jackfruit wood.
The book History of Vietnam Buddhism by Van Thanh, published on 3 May 1975, wrote: "... the temple of Khai Tuong, Hoat Lot village, Binh Duong district, now the temple ground is former Medical University, Tran Quy Cap Street, constructed in 1791 by King Nguyen Phuc Anh to commemorate the birthplace of his Prince Dom (or Prince Dam – the name of king Minh Mang) ".
Similarly, in the book Saigon In The Past, the researcher Vuong Hong Sen also wrote: "This temple was the place that Prince Dam (king Minh Mang) was born in 1791 when the royal family hiding from the Tay Son. In 1804, King Gia long remembered the old story, so he offered a huge finely gilded Buddha image by jackfruit wood to give thanks to Buddha for the protection"
In 1820, King Gia Long passed away and King Minh Mang took the throne. In 1832, after searching the address where he was born and also where his parents sheltered, King Minh Mang sent out 300 taels of silver to renovate the pagoda and renamed it into Quoc An Khai Tuong. He also encouraged monks to come and live there to take care of annual festivals and ceremonies (Khai Tuong means the good start, referring that the place where the king was born is a precious and lucky land).
The Quoc An Khai Tuong temple included bell tower, Buddha altar, corridors leading to monk’s houses and canteen. After finished, twenty monks were invited and the king also gave them land to grow and harvest to take care of the worship annually. Under the monarchy’s fending, the temple became famous and had a large influence to people in sĩ provinces of the South.
In 1859, the French troops attacked Gia Dinh. After occupying the citadel, they took control Khai Tuong temple and other big tamples like Tu An, Kim Chuong, Kieng Phuoc, Mai Son... , set up military defence against the Vietnam's attack.
Barbé , the French Marine Capt, took the Khai Tuong temple and destroyed it, brought Buddha image to the yard, forced the monks to leave the monastery. In the afternoon on 7 Dec 1860, Vietnamese army killed Barbe when he patrolled on horses from Khai Tuong to Hien Trung temple at night (now supposedly Vo Van Tan - Tran Quoc Thao junction).
According to the writer Son Nam, in around 1867, Khai Tuong temple became a pedagogical school for male students. The temple was dismantled thirteen years after that, and the school was relocated to a new place, Chasseloup Laubat school, built in 1877.
After dismantling, the lacquered plate "Quoc An Khai Tuong temple" was moved to Tu An temple (in Tan Hoa Street, District 6 nowadays) and the big Buddha statue was moved to many places, finally be exhibited in the National Museum of Saigon (now the Museum of History of Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh City).
Later, on the ground of this abandoned temple, the French built a mansion for senior officials. Before 1963, it was used as the University of Medicine. After the regime of President Ngo Dinh Diem was overthrown, military advisers were able to shelter there. After 1975, it was used as the War Remnants Museum.
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