The notorious fortress that was part of the setting for the historic novel The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas was infamously the prison for many of France’s political and religious captives. Built as a fortress against Mediterranean Sea raiders between 1524 and 1531, Chateau d’If is still situated on its small, forbidding island about a mile from the French city of Marseille. Once a feared prison, Chateau d’If is now a popular tourist attraction.
King Francis I built the imposing Chateau d’If to guard against attacks from the sea. In truth, the castle strongly deterred attacks—during its history, no one ever attempted an invasion. The squarely-constructed castle is set atop the island’s cliffs. The three-story fortress is flanked by towers and gun battlements. Ramparts set on the cliff’s edge once added to the chateau’s military might.
The fortress was turned into a prison in 1540 after Marseille was annexed to France. The people of Marseille resented the fortress as a symbol of French rule; to appease them, the chateau, instead, became a prison for the nation’s most unwanted detainees. The chateau remained an infamous prison until the beginning of the twentieth century. Feared and reviled, Chateau d’If held such famed prisoners as Comte de Mirabeau, a French revolutionary. Its most famous captive, however, was Dumas’ fictional character, Edmond Dantes.
The chateau’s isolation added to its infamy. Surrounded by treacherous offshore currents, the fortress made an ideal prison. In fact, no one, except for the fictional Dantes, is known to have escaped from Chateau d’If. Beneath the chateau, a dank medieval dungeon housed the poorest criminals. Those who could afford to pay for better prison accommodations were allotted private cells with a window and fireplace. Other famous prisoners confined to the fortress include Chevalier Anselme, Chevalier de Lorraine, and Gaston Cremieux.
Chateau d’If’s legendary fame, of course, was cemented with the publication of Dumas’ novel in 1844. As the notorious prison that held the innocent Edmond Dantes and his fellow inmate Abbe Faria, the Chateau became world-famous. After a fourteen-year imprisonment, Dantes makes a daring and ingenious escape in order to exact his revenge for his long years of incarceration. The work is a classic of literature and is one of the reasons why the Chateau is still so popular among tourists.
Today, Chateau d’If is regarded as an historic monument of France. As such, it receives thousands of visitors each year. Many come in order to re-imagine the place where Dantes was held captive, but the chateau’s historical value makes it popular among those interested in castle construction. Visitors to Chateau d’If primarily set off from the port of Marseille and spend the day roaming through the legendary fortress. An imposing sight, Chateau d’If still retains its mysterious and foreboding air.
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