Château d’If is one of the coolest historical sites we’ve ever been to, and we’ve been to a lot. It’s a castle-turned-prison-turned site of literary fame on an island just off the coast of Marseille.
There are multiple ferries that go to the château but the day we went only Compagnies Maritimes was going. It was very convenient, since it was a short walk from our Airbnb, and included the entry ticket to the château. The ferry wasn’t too choppy, only took about 20 minutes, and there were plenty of seats.
The ferry also has a beautiful view of Marseille from the water. If you don’t have time to visit the Calanques, or it’s too windy like it was for us, this is a great way to see the famous site and the beauty of Marseille from the water. The water at the château is also the most gorgeous, crystal clear, turquoise water.
Château d’If was built on the Île d’If in 1529 as Marseille’s first royal fortress, to protect their trade port, and soon after became a prison. In 1541 it received it’s first prisoners. It remained a fortress and a prison until the 1700’s, when a military engineer deemed it not suitable to defend against attacks and it became solely a prison.
For almost 400 years, prisoners of all types were banished to Château d’If, from petty criminals to murders and political criminals. Most famous is Pierre Picaud, a shoemaker from Nîmes, France, who is *probably* the inspiration for the famous Alexandre Dumas novel, The Count of Monte Cristo. Other famous prisoners include the man in the iron mask, a political prisoner whose identity remains a mystery today, and Jean-Baptiste Chataud, accused of bring the plague to Marseille.
Despite being demilitarized and opened to the public since 1890, it still very much feels like a 1500’s prison. You can almost picture the dirty, diseased, and most likely emaciated prisoners who lived in the notoriously unhygienic conditions.
Some of the prisoners paid a pistole, which was a coin, to pay rent on a private cell. These cells were larger and therefore more hygienic. Some of the larger cells had fantastic views of the Mediterranean Sea, and I would guess these were the rented cells.
After visiting the prison, you can walk around the grounds and check out the views, and even enjoy a drink at the snack bar while enjoying the views of Marseille and the Mediterranean.
I ended up loving Marseille much more than I thought I would, and Château d’If was one of the reasons why. I highly recommend visiting Marseille, and the prison is an absolute must-do.
That being said, I haven’t read The Count of Monte Cristo since high school, and my book budget is almost maxed out. Loved this post? Help me buy the book!