Theme Week Marseille – Château d’If off the coast

Wednesday, 23 October 2013 - 01:00 pm (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, Palaces, Castles, Manors, Parks
Reading Time:  4 minutes

Château d'If © Philippe Alès/cc-by-sa-3.0

Château d’If © Philippe Alès/cc-by-sa-3.0

The Château d’If is a fortress (later a prison) located on the island of If, the smallest island in the Frioul Archipelago situated in the Mediterranean Sea about a mile offshore in the Bay of Marseille in southeastern France. Île d’If measures 3 hectares (0.03 km2) and is located 3.5 kilometers west of the Vieux Port in Marseille. The entire island is heavily fortified; high ramparts with gun platforms surmount the cliffs that rise steeply from the surrounding ocean. Apart from the fortress, or château as it is ironically called, the island is uninhabited.

The “château” is a square, three-story building 28 m long on each side, flanked by three towers with large gun embrasures. It was built in 1524-31 on the orders of King Francis I, who, during a visit in 1516, saw the island as a strategically important location for defending the coastline from sea-based attacks. However, its construction was extremely controversial. When Marseille was annexed to France in 1481, it retained the right to provide for its own defence. The castle was therefore seen by many of the local inhabitants as an unwanted imposition of central authority.

The castle’s principal military value was as a deterrent; it never had to fight off an actual attack. The closest that it came to a genuine test of strength was in July 1531, when the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V made preparations to attack Marseille. However, he abandoned the invasion plan, perhaps deterred by the presence of the castle.

Château d'If © Jan Drewes - www.jandrewes.de/cc-by-sa-2.5 Château d'If and neighboring offshore islands, seen from Marseille © ChrisO/cc-by-sa-3.0 Château d'If, as seen from ferry © Wpopp/cc-by-sa-3.0 Château d'If courtyard © Michelle Davies/cc-by-sa-2.5 Château d'If and Marseille waterfront © Wpopp/cc-by-sa-3.0 Château d'If © Philippe Alès/cc-by-sa-3.0
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Château d'If and neighboring offshore islands, seen from Marseille © ChrisO/cc-by-sa-3.0
The isolated location and dangerous offshore currents of the Château d’If made it an ideal escape-proof prison. Its use as a dumping ground for political and religious detainees soon made it one of the most feared and notorious jails in France. Over 3,500 Huguenots (French Protestants) were sent to Château d’If, as was Gaston Crémieux, a leader of the Paris Commune, who was shot there in 1871.

The château’s use as a prison ceased at the end of the 19th century. It was demilitarized and opened to the public on September 23, 1890. It can now be reached by boat from Marseille’s old port. It is famous for being one of the settings of Alexandre Dumas‘ adventure novel Le Comte de Monte-Cristo (The Count of Monte Cristo).

Mark Twain visited the château in July, 1867 during a months long pleasure excursion. He recounts his visit in his book, The Innocents Abroad. He says a guide took his party into the prison, which was not yet open to the public, and inside the cells, one of which he says housed the “Iron Mask.” This was prior to the château opening to the public. There is a sign at the château that says “Prison dite de l’Homme au Masque de Fer” (The prison known as the man in the iron mask), but this is likely only legend since the famed Man in the Iron Mask was never held at the Chateau d’If.

Here you can find the complete Overview of all Theme Weeks.

Read more on marseille-tourisme.com – Château d’If, monuments-nationaux.fr – Château d’If and Wikipedia Château d’If (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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