Château D’If is the famous fortress on the island of If, which is situated in the Mediterranean about a mile off the shores of Marseille. The small island itself is fortified by ramparts and gun platforms on its various cliffs. The château, meanwhile, is three stories high and has towers equipped with gun openings through which weapons can be fired out of.
Château D’If was built in the 16th century by King François I, who believed it could be used as a strategic island fort to survey the Marseille harbor and deter would-be naval attacks. Its construction was not well-received at the time; Marseille was annexed by France in 1481 but given the right to defend itself. The fortress, however, was interpreted by locals as an imposition on Marseille by the French central government. Château D’If was never used in combat, however, and was converted into a prison. Much like Alcatraz in San Francisco, California, it very quickly became one of the most feared jails in France – no one has ever escaped from it.
Château D’If gained international fame in the 19th century when the French author, Alexandre Dumas, in his critically-acclaimed novel used it as the setting of the Count of Monte Cristo’s imprisonment. The Count in the novel escaped through a hole that actually exists in reality and is visible today.
The château can be reached by boat from the Quai des Belges on the Marseille mainland. It is a very popular tourist destination thanks to Dumas’ novel. Highlights of the fortress include its internal courtyards, its windowless dungeons in the lower levels, its window-filled private cells on the upper levels designed for wealthier prisoners, and the château’s wonderful views from its broad terrace.
Ramparts of If