After travelling in a country for 25 years - it’s great to find something you haven’t already visited. I’ve driven past the old French colonial era cemetery nearby Danang’s Tien Sa port on many occasions - not knowing of its existence. I heard of it for the first time a couple of years ago. I love exploring old cemeteries so it was great to finally get to Y Pha Nho - modest as it may be.
Y Pha Nho Cemetery Background
In August 1858, the French made their first attempt at colonising Vietnamese territory, invading the port city of Danang - then known as Tourane. A force of 2000 French and 500 Spanish soldiers aboard 14 ships landed at what is now Tien Sa port (nearby the cemetery) on the evening of 31 August.
The protection of Catholics from persecution provided the pretext for the invasion, though it occurred in a climate of increasing European colonial expansion. The French were acutely aware of the strong British colonial presence in Asia and South East Asia - its prestige and its economic benefits. French naval forces had fought alongside the British in the Second Opium War against China’s Qing Dynasty earlier in 1858, so naval resources were available in the region. And the French were seeking a stronger foothold in Vietnam.
After initial military success in Danang and Tien Sa, French forces became bogged down. The main force abandoned Danang and attacked Saigon in February 1859. Facing disease and dogged resistance, The French ultimately abandoned the Danang mission, to focus on the consolidation of power in Saigon and the south. It was almost three decades later, in 1887, when the central region of Vietnam, including Danang and Hue - known then as Annam - became part of the French colony.
The cemetery at Y Pha Nho carries the graves of around 30 French and Spanish soldiers who died in the 1858 campaign. There is a small chapel and an obelisk around 100 metres away. The cemetery was inaugurated in 1898 by the then French Governor General of Indochina, Paul Doumer, on the fortieth anniversary of the battle.
To get to Y Pha Nho cemetery, head towards Tien Sa port. The cemetery is on a hill on the right, just before the port entrance - you won’t miss it. The port road is congested with semi-trailers - this is not the prettiest part of Son Tra Peninsular. If you love history and old cemeteries as we do, this place is a must - but there isn’t a whole lot there. And there is no information available about the site or the battle. The cemetery appears to be well maintained.