Marseilles – Chateau d’If
No visit to Marseilles is complete without a visit to the famous, even notorious, fortress called Chateau d’If (it’s like visiting Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower). For those of you who do not know what this castle represents, let me remind you of a very famous book written by Alexandre Dumas called the Count of Monte Cristo. Many movies have been made of this mythical figure who escaped from one of the most un-escapable prisons in France.
And that is because the Chateau d’If is the French equivalent of San Francisco’s Alcatraz; a prison island 3.5 kilometres West of Marseilles. To get to the fortress/prison you’ll need to take one of the ferries. The currents around the island groups is murderous; very strong and even violent. Even in a ferry boat you’ll feel the strong currents.
The boat ride takes about 30 minutes and is quite a nice ride since you’ll be passing through harbours and other islands before reaching the rocky island where the very big fortress awaits you.
The fortress was built in 1521 and commission by King Francis I. It’s location was strategic for the defence of the city, and it was so successful, the city was never raided after the construction. No force even considered invading the city.
The fortress was a classical construction, with three towers hosting the guns, and the very wide and thick walls are three stories high.
The fortress itself stands on the island which is 3 hectares big (7.5 acres) with at the Marseilles-end a lighthouse. From the rocky garden, you have a perfect view of Marseilles and the Notre-Dame de la Garde church perched high on the hill.
For 400 years the castle was used as a prison for political and religious prisoners (the first prisoners were transferred here in 1540). The very strong currents alongside the islands made escape impossible. Only one fictional character managed to escape, the Count of Monte Cristo, but in real life, never had a prisoner escaped from this island prison, making it famous the world over. The graffiti on the top right are not from the prisoners but from “tourists”.
Today you can visit the insides of the prisons, not only the cells but also the corridors, catacombs, barracks and offices. Small passage ways lead you through this three story high building. Prisoners in the lower cells had a life expectancy of 8 months, but if they paid a monthly rent, they were moved to the upper prisons where they could live out their lives “normally”. There, the prisons had windows, chimneys and more space. Obviously, only the wealthy prisoners were able to do this.
The last prisoners were released in 1914!
The visits to the castle are freewheeling, you decide where you want to go and what to see. Each section is well labelled with explanations on what you’ll see. The building itself has been well maintained.
You can visit the three towers/turrets which held the massive canons used to defend the castle.
The ceiling is amazing considering the dates, big and round, ready to withstand blasts. Quite a solid construction.
You can walk alongside or on top of the fortress walls, right up to the lighthouse (which is still in use).
And of course there are the obligatory souvenirs and ticket offices and a bar/cafe.
Price: €5.50 for adults
Web site: Chateau d’If
- Marseilles is France's 2nd largest city in population (over 800,000 inhabitants in the city), and France's biggest harbour. It is also one of the oldest dwellings in France, with cave painting found dating back 30,000 years BC. It doesn't get any older than that. NOTE: Below you'll find an impression…
- Transport Getting There By Airplane From both Paris airports, many flights per day, direct to Marseilles. 1 hour 15. The airport also as many international flights daily. Within Marseilles There is a very good transportation system in Marseilles, with a very good and encompassing bus route and two metro lines.…