Chateau d'If was built in the early part of the 16th century. Originally intended to be a fortress, storing artillery, its true usage was as a prison, for both common and political prisoners. It was this usage that was immortalized in Dumas' "The Count of Monte Cristo".
Tour boats leave from Marseille's Vieux-Port (old harbor) pretty regularly. Upon arrival, you can tour the prison, the museum, and other parts of the island. Also, there is a snack bar. Be sure to catch the last boat from the island at the end of the day! Also, be cautious when walking the grounds: the island is a nesting place for a breed of large seagulls, and the birds can be quite agressively protective of their nests.
The island of If was uninhabited until the 16th century, when King Francois I, realising its military potential, ordered a fortress to be built on it. Shortly after, the fortress was converted to a prison and later made famous in the novel "The Count of Monte Cristo" by Alexandre Dumas. Alexandre Dumas had met José Custodio Faria, a monk and former inmate, and was so impressed with this man that he fashioned the 'mad monk' in his novel after him. The prison was closed in the late 19th century and opened to the public in 1890.
The Chateau d'If can be reached by boat from the Vieux Port (Old Port) in Marseille.
This castle/fortress is built on an island just off the coast of Marseille. The history dates back until the 16th century, but the chateau became really famous when the French novelist Alexandre Dumas set the setting for his novel "The Count of Monte Cristo" right here! In the novel the count manages to escape from the island, but in reality no escape has ever been reported!
You can visit the chateau, but we did not (too little time plus the sea was pretty rough...). We did enjoy the view from the Corniche, though!
The "Château d'If", a few miles away from the city. Its castle was built on order of François 1st, king of France, at the beginning of the XVIth century. It became later a state prison in 1634. In Alexandre Dumas' famous novel "Le Comte de Monte-Cristo", the main character, Edmond Dantès was jailed in the Château d'If, from where he escaped, being "buried" in the sea as a fake dead body. Several films have been made on this famous story. The Château d'If can be visited from the "Vieux Port" and though if Edmond Dantès never existed, you can visit his cell !
This is also free of charge (boat & chateau) when you have a CITY PASS.....
The most famous prisoner no doubt was Josè Custodio Faria whom Alexandre Dumas immortalised in his tale "The Count of Monte-Cristo".
After accomodating the rebels of 1848 and the communards of 1871, the fortress ceased to be a prison and was opened to the public in 1890.
As for Edmond Dantès, The Count of Monte-Cristo, the hole he dug into one of the cell walls is still visible.
It served me well to take this picture of Marseille seen through the hole!
Worthy of a visit, you will enjoy it!
That;s me, looking at the boat that will take travellers and residents to Chateau d'If and the isle of Frioul.
Until the 16th Century, the Isle of If was a wilderness, just an occasional haven for fishermen. It was François I who, during a visit to Marseille in 1516, realized its strategic importance and gave orders for a fortress to be built there.
On his arrival at the island by galley, the Monarch unexpectedly encountered a rhinoceros, peacefully grazing on the sparse grasses. It was a present from a maharadja to the king of Portugal, who has given it to the Pope, with a stopover on the island of If on its way to Rome!!
In 1531 the fortress was completed.
The chateau, incorporating 3 towers and a dungeon now controlled the bay of Marseilles. When the King returned in 1533 to meet Catherine de Médicis, the culverins and bombards thundered in his honour. For many years on end this was the only time they were heard.
Very quickly the fortress became a prison . Rebels, villains and recalcitrant galley slaves were imprisoned here for varying lengths of time.
Srarting in the 17th Century, large numbers of Protestants were thrown into the dungeons where many of them parished.
to be continued...
see the next tip
From the Old Port, one can catch a boat out to the Frioul Islands, an archipelago just off the coastline. The Chateau d'If is the most famed attraction here. Built by King Francois I in the 16th century, its main purpose was to help keep control over the city. The fort is also the setting for The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas' 19th century novel.
Also, be sure to visit the other islands here. They offer some sandy beaches and excellent views of the city.
This is the second smallest of the Frioul Islands, just off the coast of Marseille. These islands are practically right in front of the entrance to the Old Port. You can get there on the Frioul If Express (first photo).
The origin of the name Île d'If is rather mysterious. It has nothing to do with the English word if, in any case.
There is a French word if, meaning a kind of coniferous tree i.e. with needles rather than leaves. The English word for this is a yew tree, which I must admit I had never heard of.
Some people think there must have been some yew trees on this island at one time, but that does not seem plausible considering that this is a very barren and dry island that essentially is nothing more than a big rock sticking up out of the water. Maybe there were some yew bushes.
Until 1516 the Île d'If was uninhabited, but then the new French King François I paid a visit (he had just been crowned king in Reims the year before) and decided the island was of strategic importance, so he ordered a fortress to be built on it.
Over three centuries later, in 1832, Victor Hugo wrote a play about François I called Le Roi s’amuse (The King Amuses Himself), in which the king seduces the daughter of the court jester Triboulet. This play was too much for the French censors and was immediately banned, but it later served as the basis for the opera Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The only way Verdi got it past the censors was to change the king into a duke and move the setting from Paris to Mantua.
Victor Hugo was seriously miffed about this, by the way, not only because his play had been banned but also because Verdi had neglected to ask his permission to use it for an opera. Hugo eventually forgave Verdi for this and they became friends, but it took quite a while. And in later years Hugo campaigned successfully for the establishment of the first international copyright laws.
Next Frioul tip: Château d’If
Everybody who has red the story "The Count of Monte Cristo" knows who is Edmond Dantes. If we imagine that it could be not only a story but real adventure, we have a opportunity to see the cell were Edmond Dantes served his time. Sightworthy is the famed tunnel as well.
Even if we disassociate the story from real history you should know that a long time ago truly Château d'If functioned as real prison.
When tour of Château d'If is finished before going home you can buy some souvenirs or take a drink in the gift shop.
Sebastian le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707) was a military engineer during the reign of the French King Louis XIV.
Vauban was to the seventeenth century what Kilroy ("Kilroy was here") was to the twentieth. Wherever you went in Western Europe, Vauban had already been there and had designed, built, strengthened – or conquered – the fortifications.
Vauban was responsible for the fortification of over 160 places (some sources say as many as 300), mainly in France but also in places that now belong to other countries, such as Freiburg in Breisgau, Germany, and Maastricht, the Netherlands.
In Paris there is a monument to Vauban in the Invalides, in one of the side niches adjoining Napoléon’s tomb.
In 1701 Vauban went to Marseille to inspect the fortifications on the Island of If. He was not impressed.
In the castle there is now a text panel (first photo) with quotations from his report: “Everything is badly made and very negligently constructed, which makes me think in spite of myself that those who were involved in carrying out these works were either perfectly ignorant or were lazy and unwilling, if not worse.”
Fortunately these fortifications were never attacked, so their effectiveness was never tested.
Second photo: Some of the fortifications on the island of If.
Third photo: This rather undistinguished building on the island is named after Vauban.
Next Frioul tip: Views from the island of If
The most famous prisoner of the Château d’If was a fictional one, Edmond Dantès, the protagonist of the novel The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870).
In the novel, Edmond Dantès was falsely accused and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Château d’If. After years of confinement he managed to escape from the castle and the island (something no prisoner ever did in real life) and spent the following decades taking revenge on the three men who were responsible for his imprisonment.
Like Victor Hugo, who was also born in 1802, the author Alexandre Dumas was the son of a general in the French army. Hugo and Dumas were friends (and rivals) off and on for their entire lives. Both were hugely successful authors, and both went into exile when Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte seized power and proclaimed himself the Emperor Napoléon III in 1851.
Second photo: The Château d’If as seen from the boat. Although he described it so graphically in his novel, the author Alexandre Dumas never actually visited the Château d’If.
Third photo: Here you can look down into one of the prison cells in the Château d’If and see yourself as a prisoner, on a video screen.
Fourth photo: In the Château d’If today there are some text panels about Alexandre Dumas and his family. Here the author of The Count of Monte Cristo is referred to as Alexandre Dumas père (father) to distinguish him from his son Alexandre Dumas fils (1824-1895), who also became a famous novelist and playwright.
Fifth photo: The younger Alexandre Dumas is best known today for his novel (and stage play) La Dame aux camélias, which became the basis for the opera La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901).
Next Frioul tip: Vauban was here
After reading "The Count of Monte Cristo" I had to schedule a visit to the Chateau d'If once I knew that we would be stopping by Marseille. Since the former prison is located on an island, you have to take a ferry, the journey is 10.10€ round trip or 15.20€ if you also want to stop at the Frioul Islands after your visit. We were there on a sunny hot Saturday morning and the ferries were packed, they must have added an extra ferry at the one we got on wasn't posted.
Once you get to the island, there is an additional charge of 5.50€ to visit the Chateau. After paying the fee, you can wander to the fortress which was built by Francois I in the 16th century. It was converted to a prison, it's most famous "guest" was the fictional Count de Monte Cristo. Two of the cells are named after the characters from the book, Edmund Dantes, the Count; and Abbe Feria who's death allowed the Count to escape and exact his revenge. The real life Man in the Iron Mask was not held here although there is also a cell named for him as well.
Keep an eye on the time, the ferries sometimes only run every couple of hours, after visiting the prison, there's not a lot to do out there! The visit here should take about an hour.
In 1524 (François I), a fortress was built to protect Marseille against sea-attacks. The island was later used as a state prison for slaves and republicans. The place has become famous from the novel written by Alexandre Dumas (The Count of Montecristo) in 1844.
Château d'If has been opened to public since 1890 and was classified as historical monument in 1926.
Visits (ferryboats from Quai des Belges - Vieux Port) + 33 04.91.55.50.09
The one big building on the Island of If is this castle, the Château d’If, which was built from 1529 to 1533.
It was built ostensibly to protect the city of Marseille, but more likely to keep the city under control, like the forts at both sides of the entrance to the Old Port.
For centuries the Château d’If was used as a high-security prison, similar to Alcatraz in the United States.
Second photo: Approaching the Château d’If on foot.
Third photo: Entering the Château d’If.
Fourth photo: Looking up at one of the towers.
Fifth photo: Looking back at Marseille from the castle entrance.
Next Frioul tip: Alexandre Dumas
You can take a boat ride to a tiny isle where the Chateau d'If is situated. This small castle turned into a prison is known to everybody who has read Dumas' novel, "The Count of Monte Cristo'. This is fiction of course, but still the castle is nice and you can even enter a cell and look from behind the bars trying to imagine what it could be. The island also offers a nice view of the city. If ou decide to take a later boat, you can have a swim or sunbathe on the island. there is a small gift store there and all postcards have the Chateau d'If stamp proving that you did time there :)