333 years later, Brest commemorates the visit of Ambassador Kosa Pan

- through Fabrice Groult

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This historic event will be held this Saturday, February 15, in Brest. A large Thai delegation will attend the inauguration of a bronze bust of Kosa Pan. This ambassador from the Kingdom of Siam, accompanied by a colorful procession, landed in the city of Ponant in June 1686, before meeting Louis XIV at Versailles. A meeting of civilizations which founded the diplomatic relations between France and Thailand. The installation of this commemorative statue aims to celebrate these 333 years of friendship.

An emblematic thoroughfare in downtown Brest, rue de Siam will proudly bear its name on February 15. A bronze bust of Ambassador Kosa Pan, made by Thai sculptor Watchara Prayookum, will be fixed at the corner of Ducouédic, Louis-Pasteur and Jean-Moulin streets. It was here, very close to the current cable car station, that the ambassador of the King of Siam and his delegation landed in June 1686, before traveling to Versailles to meet Louis XIV.

The statue, 1,20 meters high and screwed on a granite base, is offered by the Thai Association of French Teachers. The work was blessed in November by Thai Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorm. Sister of King Rama X, she will lead the delegation of 200 people to Brittany alongside the great monk Somdej Phra Maha Teerajarn, Vice-Patriarch of Thailand.

"It will be a great moment of celebration of the friendship that binds Brest and Thailand", rejoiced, in Le Télégramme, the deputy for international relations of the City of Brest, Fortuné Pellicano. Kosa Pan's visit was "the foundation of the long-standing friendship between Thailand and France", the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs further underlined in September 2019. And even more: it was "a meeting of civilizations at a time when Siam was opening up to the world", recalled the French ambassador to Thailand on 12 November. “The French then discovered a rich and complex culture, still little known in the West, which had developed between India and China”.

Tonnerre de Brest for elephants

333 years ago, this major event had a strong impact on the minds of the Cité du Ponant. On the morning of June 23, 1686, all the batteries of the forts and parts of the ships in the harbor sounded "the thunder of Brest" to greet the guests, who had arrived on the royal frigates l'ORbird and Maligns. At noon, an elegant boat, with fifty rowers, musicians and guards on board, docks. The ambassadors, followed by seven mandarins, four secretaries, twenty servants, surround the casket containing the letter from the King of Siam Phra Narai intended for Louis XIV. This is protected by four parasols of gold brocade. The procession, with its palanquins laden with treasures, its sculptures of caparisoned elephants, its figures covered with jewels, goes up the Grande rue then the rue Saint-Pierre to end at the " king's house », residence of the intendant of the Navy, where a feast is served to 72 guests.

Kosa Pan's visit was "the foundation of the long-standing friendship between Thailand and France".

In the days that followed, the intendant offered his guests a complete tour of the arsenal. Its workshops, its shipyards, its most beautiful vessels. Objective: to convince them that Louis is really " The Great on sea as well as on land. On July 9, the Siamese left the Cité du Ponant, crossed Brittany then the Loire Valley, to arrive on August 12 in Paris, where they had been expected for several years.

years of negotiations

Indeed, from 1662, fathers of the Foreign Missions of Paris approached the King of Siam. The latter tried to establish contacts from 1673, convinced that France could help him to counterbalance the Dutch, Portuguese and English influences in the region, while containing the pressure of the Burmese neighbors. A first Siamese embassy, ​​which left in 1680, had disappeared at sea with its baby elephants. In January 1684, a second landed in England before being received in Paris in November. Louis XIV wished to ensure a French presence by proposing a treaty of friendship and assistance. And, if possible, try to Christianize the kingdom of Siam. So much so that he sent a mission to accompany the Siamese envoys and bring high-ranking ambassadors back to France. I'Bird and Smart sailed from Brest on March 3, 1685, landed in Bangkok on September 22 to set sail again on December 14. The ships were laden with so many gifts that it was necessary to give up embarking elephants….

600 men, 160 artillery pieces

The delegation led by Kosa Pan was finally received in the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles on September 1, 1686. A fruitful meeting. The Sun King decides to form a squadron, which leaves Brest on March 1, 1687. The holds are loaded with presents for Phra Naraï, but not only. The Siamese ambassadors are accompanied by a whole retinue of officers, gentlemen and Jesuits, with a view to a " assistance technical, scientific, and military. One of the objectives of this expeditionary force, 600 strong and 160 pieces of artillery, was to establish fortified bases in Bangkok as well as in Mergui, on the shores of the Bay of Bengal. The success of the alliance is therefore beyond doubt. On his return to Brest on July 27, 1688, the squadron commander assures us that the French and the Siamese are collaborating wonderfully. Unfortunately, this Franco-Siamese alliance was compromised the following year by the death of King Phra Narai and the ensuing palace revolution. The French must then return urgently.

But this internal reversal in no way taints the mission of Kosa Pan, which marked the beginning of diplomatic relations between the two countries. These links will be reinforced, on August 15, 1856, by the signing of the Treaty of Friendship and Commerce, between Siam and the France of Napoleon III. A French consulate will be created, and land offered, in 1875, by His Majesty King Rama V Chulalongkorn. It is still here that the French Embassy is located, in a restored building.

photo of author

Fabrice Groult

Fabrice Groult is an adventurer, photographer and Buddhist who has traveled the world since a young age. After studying Buddhism in India, he embarked on an eighteen-month journey through Asia that took him to the Himalayas, where he discovered his passion for photography. Since then, he has traveled the world capturing images of Buddhist beauty and wisdom. He was a guide for ten years, and is now a journalist with Buddhist News.

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