Côn Đảo Prison, also know as Côn Sơn Prison, is located offshore Bà Rịa – Vũng Tàu. The island is not only the best place to escape from the bustling city on the weekend or holidays but also a destination where you can discover the brutality of imperialism and colonialism – a hellish place for thousands of prisoners for over a century.
About the Côn Đảo Prison
On February 1, 1862, Governor Bonard in Cochinchina signed a decision to establish Côn Đảo Prison. The French colonial government chose Côn Đảo as the place to build a prison because it was far from the mainland, had no transportation so that the prisoners could not escape.
The French colonial government and the Republic of Vietnam built 127 cells, 42 cells, and 504 isolated cells (also known as tiger cages) in Côn Đảo.
The Con Dao prison system consists of several locations such as Bagne I (Phú Hải Camp), Bagne II (Phú Sơn Camp), Bagne III (Phú Thọ Camp), Bagne III (Phú Cường Camp)…with an area of more than 12,000m2. These camps were built to detain and torture patriotic soldiers. Let’s explore the specific “hell on earth” through the camps below:
Phú Hải Camp
It was built in 1862, this is also the oldest camp with 33 cells divided into two rows opposite each other. Besides the cells, Phú Hải camp also has a clinic, lecture hall, cafeteria, and kitchen, and clinic for prisoners. However, all these things were built to mislead the public.
Instead, there is a room at the end of the row that is used to torture prisoners with extremely barbaric forms.
Phú Sơn Camp
Located next to Phú Hải camp is Phu Son camp built-in 1916. This prison is also designed like other prisons, only larger and with more cruel forms of torture. The camp has 13 cells, 1 separate area with 14 stone cellars, and 1 darkroom. At Phú Sơn camp, the French colonialists also covered the public’s eyes when they built a club, a supervisor’s office, a cafeteria, a barber room, etc.
Phú Thọ Camp
The camp was built in 1928, with a total area of about 12,700 square meters. There are 03 cells a medical room, a kitchen and a dining room, a dormitory room and a separate room, a row of houses for prisoners. Before 1945, the camp had 2 rows of concentration cells, 1 isolation cell, 1 kitchen, canteen, and 1 infirmary to isolate patients with infectious diseases. After the August Revolution, the camp was renovated, leaving only 2 blocks of cells. The cells were numbered from 1 to 8. When American came, this camp built two more cells, number 9 and number 10, located behind the infirmary. The prisoners held here have given it the nickname “ Separated Chicken Shed”
In addition, this area near Phú Phong Camp was built by the Republic of Vietnam in 1962, combined with Phú Thọ Camp to form a cluster around the famous isolated area “French Tiger Cage”.
Phú Tuờng Camp
This camp was actually a tiger cage that the French-built to house our patriotic soldiers. Phú Tường camp was built in 1940 and has a total area of up to 1,475m2, divided into 2 zones and including 120 isolated cells. Visiting this prison, visitors will witness the extremely brutal torture scene. Like other camps, Phú Tường camp also had dining rooms, kitchens, sports areas, and medical areas to mislead the public.
French tiger cages
The French tiger cage was built in 1940, the total area is 5475 square meters, of which the cell area is 1408 square meters, the “solarium” is 1873 square meters. The French tiger cages have 120 solitary confinement rooms divided into 2 zones, each zone has 60 rooms, the top has a solid iron railing. In the middle, there is a corridor for the warden to control the actions and torture of prisoners. Today’s tiger cages have been repaired with tile roofs and iron bars.
There are also 60 roofless rooms called “solarium” divided into four suits, each with 15 rooms.
The “solarium” is also a place of torture where wardens poked prisoners with sticks and threw lime down on them, which burned their skin.
Phú Bình Camp – American Tiger Cages
Also known as Camp 7 is famous for the American Tiger Cages. Set up in 1971 with an area of 25,788m2, there are 384 cells divided into 4 areas include AB CD EF GH, each area has 48 tiger cages, warehouse, kitchen, monitoring room, infirmary. The camp is surrounded by barbed-wire fences and concrete walls.
Separated Cow Shed
Formed in 1876 to raise cows to create a food source for the prison administration, at times this place also raised goats, horses, pigs, chickens, ducks, etc., also worked as fields and cut firewood to serve the dominion systems. Initially, there were 2 cow sheds and a cow manure cellar, the cellar was 3m deep. In addition, there are 24 compartments for raising pigs. In 1930, the French colonialists built 9 more cells and used the cow shed as a prison for female prisoners. These cow manure cellars were also used to soak prisoners as a method of torture.
And in 1963, the cow shed and 24 pig pens were repaired and rebuilt into 33 solitary confinement rooms, divided into 3 zones A-B-C. This is where prisoners do hard labor and is also the prisoner’s cemetery, named “bãi Sọ Người” (human skull area) and also the first cemetery of Côn Đảo, followed by Hàng Keo Cemetery and Hàng Dương Cemetery.
Hàng Dương Cemetery
Covering an area of about 20 hectares is the resting place of thousands of revolutionary soldiers and Vietnamese patriots.
Many of the graves are unmarked or marked and numbered notable graves include those of Lê Hồng Phong, Nguyễn An Ninh, and Võ Thị Sáu.
In 1992, this cultural relic was embellished, and divided into 4 areas:
– Area A: Includes 688 graves, most of which were buried before 1945.
– Area B: Includes 695 graves, buried from 1945 to 1960, including the tomb of Ms. Võ Thị Sáu.
– Area C: Includes 372 graves, buried from 1960 to 1975.
– Zone D: Includes 148 graves from Hòn Cau and Hàng Keo cemeteries gathered.
Why so many people come to visit this prison?
Côn Đảo was known as the harshest prison in Indochina, with the name “Hell on Earth”. This is a special relic, home to the most notorious prison systems of the French colonialists, American imperialists, and their henchmen with political prisoners. It’s exposing the regime of forced, massacred, tortured, and imprisoned revolutionary soldiers and prisoners. More than 22,000 prisoners lost their lives on the island. The most famous are Võ Thị Sáu, the 19-year-old an independence activist; Phạm Văn Đồng and Tôn Đức Thắng, who became long-serving prime minister and president of Vietnam respectively; Lê Đức Thọ ,Vietnamese revolutionary, general, diplomat, and politician; Nguyễn Anh Minh, radical Vietnamese political journalist... Every year, thousands of Vietnamese, at all ages, come on pilgrimages to remember national heroes, friends, or relatives who were imprisoned or died on the island.
For all of us, it’s impossible to ignore the island’s grim past and scenic surrounds of this historical area.