D'If Castle Marseille

Château d’If : Fortress and Prison

During a recent trip to Marseille – a port city in southern France – we did some exploring. One of our excursions included a trip to the Frioul archipelago, a group of four islands, about 1.5km from Marseille. We also visited the smallest island, D’If, that houses the fortress and prison, Château d’If . 

We took a ferry from the Vieux-Port (Old Port) in Marseille with our first stop the Château d’If, where we strolled around. The If Castle, a fortress and former prison, was built in 1529 on the orders of the King of France, Francis 1, as the first royal fortress to protect one of the kingdom’s main trade ports. It was made legendary in the historic adventure novel by Alexandre Dumas ‘The Count of Monte Cristo‘.

Château d’If : Fortress and Prison
At the Château d’If, previously a fortress and prison.


This isolated location of the castle and the dangerous offshore currents made the Château d’If an ideal prison. Maybe because it was also seen as an extremely hard place to escape from. Many political and religious detainees were held here from the 1800’s and it soon became a notorious jail in France.

There was even a class system in the prison. Prisoners were treated according to their class and wealth with the poorest placed in the bottom cells. It was possible for twenty or more prisoners to have been housed in a windowless dungeon, so little chance of survival, while the wealthier inmates had their own private cells (which they paid for!). These were higher up with windows, sometimes a fireplace and even a wardrobe.

Many revolutionaries, some political and at one time over 3500 Christians were also imprisoned here. At the end of the 19th century it ceased to be a prison and opened for the public.

The book and the movie

Alexandre Dumas wrote this historic adventure novel, The Count of Monte Cristo around 1844. Much of it is set at the Château d’If as a forbidding prison focusing on the main character Edmond Dantès’s time there. This book made the Château d’If renowned with tourists and this maybe became more so when the book became a movie. The first adaptation was a silent film with many more movie adaptations that appeared over the years, most recently the movie in 2002 directed by Kevin Reynolds.

It is definitely worth the watch, especially if you have been strolling along these grounds or planning to do so one day.


Chateau d'If island
The islands seen from the ferry with on the left the Château d’If.
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