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A history of Hoi An, Vietnam

| Words by Rachel McCombie |

Thinking about paying a visit to the ancient port town of Hoi An when you go to Vietnam? Have a read of its interesting history before you go...

Interesting facts about Hoi An

  • Though the port was officially established in 1595, traces of human habitation of the area date back 2,200 years.
  • Thanks to shipwrecks, we know that ceramics from Vietnam and other Asian countries were carried far and wide from Hoi An - even as far as Sinai in Egypt.
  • Because of visiting overseas missionaries, Hoi An was the first place in Vietnam to be exposed to Christianity.
  • “Hoi An” means “peaceful meeting place”.

Thanks to shipwrecks, we know that ceramics from Vietnam and other Asian countries were carried far and wide from Hoi An - even as far as Sinai in Egypt!

Located in Vietnam’s Quang Nam Province, the old trading port town of Hoi An boasts architecture spanning the 15th to 19th century, and has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site since 1999. It retains its original street plan and many of its original wooden buildings, which show both local architectural styles and the influence of foreign cultures, in particular Chinese, Japanese and European. Founded by a Nguyen lord in 1595, it’s an extremely well-preserved example of a south-east Asian port town of this period.

Located in Vietnam’s Quang Nam Province, the old trading port town of Hoi An boasts architecture spanning the 15th to 19th century

Under Nguyen rule, Hoi An grew into the most significant trading port in the South China Sea, noted (among other things) for ceramics and high-grade silk. Known as ‘Hai Pho’ or ‘seaside town’, it was a vital link in the trade routes between Europe and China, India and Japan, with ships coming from countries including Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Spain, Portugal, Holland, Britain and America. Foreign colonies - most notably a Japanese settlement separated from the rest of the town by a bridge - sprung up as traders left behind representatives after staying for longer periods awaiting favourable winds to carry them home.

Foreign colonies - most notably a Japanese settlement separated from the rest of the town by a bridge - sprung up as traders left behind representatives after staying for longer periods awaiting favourable winds to carry them home

Alas, Hoi An’s trading prowess was not to last; as the mouth of the Thu Bon River became increasingly silted up, ships could no longer reach the docks. Its fate was sealed with the implementation of an anti-foreign trading policy and the subsequent collapse of Nguyen rule.

With the granting of trade rights to the French for another port town, Da Nang, Hoi An ceased to be a busy port by the end of the 18th century

With the granting of trade rights to the French for another port town, Da Nang, Hoi An ceased to be a busy port by the end of the 18th century. On the plus side, this meant that the town remained virtually untouched by modernisation for 200 years, giving us the wealth of historical buildings we can still visit and enjoy today.