Château d’If

Château d’If is a fortress within island of If, in Marseille, which gained fame especially for its role in the Alexadre Dumas story of “The Count of Monte Cristo“.

The fortress, which was build from 1524–1531 — to protect Marseille from sea-based attacks — is heavily fortified, and its sides are dominated by three towers, with large openings for cannons.

The remaining area within the island (30,000 m2, 7.3 acres) is also very heavily fortified environment, and includes high ground-walls, surrounded by bases for cannons within the island’s rocky cliffs.

Chateau d'If in Marseille France

PHOTO: A closeup of If island and its square-shaped fortress. The fortress is three-stories tall and 28 meters (91 feet) long, in each of its sides.

Chateau d'If Island in Marseille France

PHOTO: The fortress, as seen from Notre Dame de la Garde church (located on the highest naturally occurring point in Marseille). If-island is the smallest island within Frioul archipelago.

Ferries to Chateau d'If Marseille

PHOTO: You can get to the fortress and If island (and other islands within the Frioul archipelago) using the pictured ferries, which depart for the about 1.6 km (1 mile) journey towards If island from Marseille’s historical harbor, Vieux Port.

VIDEO: Video tour of Château d’If.

Due to the isolated location of the fortress and the dangerous undercurrents of the surrounding sea, Château d’If has historically been an ideal prison, similarly to how Alcatraz island was used as a prison in California, United States.

During its history, the fortress has kept imprisoned both political and religious prisoners, including over 3,500 Huguenots (French Protestants).

The island got international fame, however, only from the 19th century onward, when Alexandre Dumas used it as a central place in the events of ‘The Count of Monte Cristo‘, published in 1844.

When it was used as a prison, the prisoners at the fortress were treated differently depending on social standing, which was common at the time.

The poorest prisoners had cells within a windowless section underneath the fortress…

…whereas the more wealthy prisoners had cells on the upper floors, with the cells containing:

  • windows,
  • a clothes drawer, and
  • a fireplace.

Use of the Château as a prison ended towards late 19th century, and the fortress was opened to the public in 1890.

You can get to the island using ‘Frioul If Express’ (www.frioul-if-express.com) ferries, which depart from the Marseille Vieux-Port, at 1, Quai des Belges.