One of Vietnam’s most cherished military heroes, Lê Văn Duyệt, is buried alongside his wife at a temple in Saigon’s Bình Thạnh district. Constructed after the marshal’s death in 1830, this religious complex provides an attractive place of quiet, in the middle of an otherwise chaotic neighborhood.
Born in 1763, Lê Văn Duyệt was from a Mekong Delta peasant family, but he rose to prominence during the military campaigns of the future emperor Gia Long. Duyệt became the emperor’s most important marshal, helping to squash the Tây Sơn Rebellions, and to unite modern Vietnam for the first time in 1802. After the war had ended, Duyệt would govern southern Vietnam in a new capacity as viceroy.
His temple, found near the Bà Chiếu Market in Bình Thạnh’s Ward 1, is a fitting tribute to the marshal. Richly decorated with mosaic dragons and other fantastic creatures, the temple preserves a portrait of Duyệt and various altars for his veneration. Outside, twin mounds mark the burial sites of him and his wife.
It’s a beautiful, quiet place, but this wasn’t always the case. Because he had been open to the West, Duyệt made an enemy of the isolationist future emperor, Minh Mạng. After Duyệt’s death in 1832, Minh Mạng declared that, despite his sterling reputation for honesty, the viceroy had actually been hopelessly corrupt. In response to the posthumous insult against his father, Duyệt’s son, Lê Văn Khôi, led a failed rebellion against the emperor. In reprisal, Mạng executed sixteen of Duyệt’s descendants and ordered the desecration of his tomb. A column was erected in the temple, with an inscription mocking Duyệt as a eunuch.
Happily, later successors to the throne didn’t share Mạng’s hatred of Lê Văn Duyệt, and his tomb was soon restored. Duyệt has remained a beloved figure in southern Vietnam, and his temple has become a popular retreat for locals, who come here as much to worship, as to just hang out on benches in the relatively quiet park.