Château d’If in Marseille

One nautical mile from the Old Port of Marseille, you can make out the silhouette of the Château d’If and the Frioul archipelago. This monument, perched on a small limestone rock in the middle of the Mediterranean waters, became famous thanks to the novel The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. More than a prison, the Château d’If was also a fortress designed to protect the city from enemy invasions and from itself.

The fort of Francis I

The history of the Château d’If is linked to King Francis I and the wars between France and the Habsburg Empire.

At the time of the invasion of Charles V, the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, in 1524, Marseille lacked proper defense against enemy attacks. Following these events, King Francis I ordered the construction of the fort on the island of If and Notre-Dame de la Garde. The construction of the Château d’If was completed in July 1531. Thanks to its deterrent force, this fort was never attacked. The fortress offers a great view of Marseille and its harbor, and effectively ensures the defense of the city in case of a sea attack.

The roles of this fort were multiple. It had to protect the coasts from hypothetical invasions, cover the exits as well as the anchorage of the new fleet of royal galleys and watch over Marseille. Provence has been attached to the Kingdom of France only since 1482, and Marseille continues to retain a large degree of autonomy. When they passed through the Porte Réale, the kings of France had to submit to an ancient ceremony during which they took an oath to respect “the privileges, franchises and liberties of the city of Marseille”.

From 1580 to 1871, the fort served as a state prison. Many Protestants and Republicans were incarcerated there. Knight Anselme was one of the first to be locked up in this prison from which it was impossible to escape because of its location. He was accused of plotting against the monarchy then in power. Mirabeau also stayed there from 1774 on, with a lettre de cachet. The coffin of General Kléber, who had distinguished himself during the French Revolution, was kept for 18 years at the Château d’If. Some cells house graffiti from former prisoners, bearing witness to their daily lives, history, and dreams.

A place of legends

When Alexandre Dumas published his novel The Count of Monte Cristo in 1844, the Château d’If became famous all over the world. The hero of his book, Edmond Dantes, is detained in this prison, whose living conditions in the 19th century were insalubrious and sordid. The character is accused of being a Bonapartist conspirator and decides to foment his revenge from his cell. After 14 years of imprisonment, he manages to escape with the help of Abbé Faria. This is the beginning of the adventures of the Count of Monte Cristo. The novel inspired 23 movies and was translated all over the world. Among all the prisoners incarcerated on the island, the Count of Monte Cristo is the most famous, even though this prisoner never really existed. Unless… Who knows?

The island of If was already a place of legend long before the construction of the castle. The first prisoner on this piece of land was the only rhino in Asia to have walked on European soil at the time. The animal, a gift from King Manuel of Portugal to Pope Leo X, made a stopover on the island of If during his journey. Finally, after the ship that was carrying it in the baie of Genoa sank, it was offered to be stuffed.

During their visit, visitors can discover several secrets of the fortress.

The Frioul archipelago

The Frioul archipelago, located 2 kilometers from Marseille, has four islands: Pomègues, Ratonneau, If and Tiboulen. These limestone rocks are appreciated throughout the region for their fine sandy beaches, quiet coves and unspoiled wilderness.

The islands of the Frioul archipelago have their own climate. In winter, the sea softens the temperatures and makes them less harsh. On summer nights, it covers the plots of land with dew and maintains humidity. There, the elements are not always mild, the wind beats the limestone rocks and erodes the soil. 400 original plant species have managed to tame this microclimate and develop. About a hundred species of birds come to stay on the archipelago. In order to protect this remarkable fauna and flora, the Frioul archipelago has been attached to Calanques National Park.

On the Ratonneau Island stands another emblematic monument of Marseille, the Caroline Hospital. Built by the architect Michel-Robert Penchaud in the 19th century, the building made it possible to quarantine patients suffering from yellow fever. It was partly destroyed by aerial bombardments during the liberation of Marseille in August 1944. In 1980, the Caroline Hospital was listed as a Historical Monument. It is currently being restored thanks to the ACTA VISTA association, which organizes projects dedicated to integration and training in heritage professions for people struggling the most to find employment.

The Château d’If and the other islands of Frioul offer a great view of the Bay of Marseille, from the Blue Coast to the calanques.

Plan your trip to the Château d’If

The site can be visited all year round, however the days and opening schedules vary according to the seasons:

  • From January 2 to April 1: from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (closed on Monday)
  • From April 2 to September 30: 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (open every day)
  • From October 2 to December 31: from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (closed on Monday)
  • Closed on January 1, May 1, and December 25

The visit to the Château d’If offers you an exotic experience just a few minutes by boat from Marseille and the Old Port, and visitor reviews emphasize this unusual dimension.

A visit document is available at the reception desk in French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Czech, Russian, Chinese, Dutch, Japanese and Portuguese. Guided tours are also organized.

The Château d’If and the Frioul archipelago are accessible only by boat. Several companies offer round trips, so it is essential to check the schedule of the water shuttle leaving from the Old Port (Vieux-Port).



The Château d’If is accessible by water shuttle from the Old Port of Marseille. You must get in touch with the shipping companies that operate the connections to access the monument. Weather conditions may exceptionally lead to a cancellation of the shuttles.

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