The Senegalese Tata in Chasselay
The Senegalese Tata in Chasselay. Photo: SGA/DMPA - Richard Monléon
In June 1940, the German army was advancing to towards the city of Lyon.
In West Africa, tata is a Wolof word meaning “plot of sacred land”, the place where warriors killed in combat are buried.
In Chasselay, in the Rhône, this name takes on its true meaning when you delve into the local annals and learn the history of the events that took place here during the Second World War.
On 19 and 20 June 1940, ignorant of the fact that Lyon had just been declared an “open city”, the 25th Senegalese Infantry Regiment confronted the German army in Chasselay and the surrounding area.
Despite their bravery, they were finally forced to lay down arms. The battles were terminated by the massacre of African prisoners by the SS division Totenkopf (Death’s Head).
Rectangular in shape, surrounded by high walls surmounted on each corner and above the entrance by a spiked pyramid, the tata is architecturally inspired by Sudanese architecture.
The massive oak door bears eight different stylised sculpted masks displaying idols that keep watch over the deceased at rest. The surrounding walls and grave stones are red ochre in colour.
The cemetery holds the remains of 196 infantrymen of various nationalities from West Africa. They originated from Senegal but also Burkina Faso (Upper Volta at the time), Dahomey, Sudan, Chad and other nations.
The origins of the cemetery
This unique building in France is owed to Jean Marchiani. A veteran of the war of 1914-1918, in 1940 he held the position of General Secretary of the Departmental Office of disabled ex-servicemen, veterans and victims of war.
As soon as he heard about the events of 19 and 20 June, he decided to bring together the bodies of the African soldiers, some of whom were buried in local cemeteries while others were often simply left to lay in ditches in the middle of the countryside.
After identifying the villages where bodies were buried, Jean Marchiani bought a plot of land in Chasselay, near the locality of Vide-Sac where 50 Senegalese prisoners were shot by the enemy, and raised funds. He was backed by General Doyen, former commander of the Army of the Alps, and Senegal Deputy Calendou Diouf.
The inauguration took place on 8 November 1942, three days before the invasion of the free zone by the Germans.
This memorial and site for contemplation was classified as a national cemetery in 1966. The property of the Ministry of Defence, it is managed by the interdepartmental department of veterans’ affairs for the Rhône-Alpes region.
Nécropole nationale de Chasselay (Chasselay National Cemetery)
Getting there: Take the D100 in the direction of Les Chères Chasselay (Rhône)
Opening times: 10 am to 6 pm
Guided tours: 10 am to 12 pm and 2-5 pm
Admission: free of charge
Open all year from 10 am to 6 pm Guided tours from 10 am to 12 pm and 2-5 pm