To the south of Vietnam, the archipelago of the Côn Dao Islands,located in the South China Sea, is composed of sixteen rocks covered in lush vegetation. A regular stopover on the Maritime Silk Road connecting China to Europe between the 2nd and 13th centuries, the islands were mentioned by Marco Polo during his voyage from China to India in 1294. A former English and French trading post, the archipelago became a French colony in 1861 using the name Poulo Condor. A penitentiary centre was built there and used to imprison opponents of the colonial regime. During the Vietnam War, the Saigon regime and the United States locked up communist enemies there until 1975. In its idyllic natural setting, Con Dao has become a memorial site and a symbol of the fight for independence.