Are you planning a trip to Marseille soon? Don’t miss the Château d’If! Here is all you need to know about the Château d’If, a world-famous, legendary fortress!
Set on the tiny island of If in the Frioul archipelago, right in the middle of the bay of Marseille, Château d’If is a French fortress built between 1527 and 1529 on the orders of the famous King Francis I, who saw the island as a strategic location to defend the coastline from sea-based attacks. From 1580 to 1871, the château was mainly used as a state prison where several political prisoners were incarcerated. The fortress was immortalized by Alexandre Dumas in his novel The Count of Monte Cristo. Thanks to Dumas’ famous masterpiece, it is one of the most visited sites in the city of Marseille, attracting nearly 100,000 visitors every year!
Are you keen on a visit to the Château d’If? We’ve prepared this mini guide to help you learn more about this famous monument and how to visit it easily!
Also read : The 13 best things to do in Marseille
History of the Château d’If
Francois I, King of France, chose this beautiful islet in the harbor of Marseilles as the location of the fortress which was to serve a triple purpose. The first was to protect Marseille from an attack. At the time, Marseille was considered “the most beautiful window of the kingdom of France in the northern Mediterranean!” It was also built to cover the departures and anchorages of the newly created Royal Fleet, whose mission was to protect the region’s crucial maritime routes. Finally, the edifice’s purpose was one of surveillance of the city Marseille, which had been annexed to the Kingdom of France in 1480.
Most of the building’s materials come from the occupation of Marseille by the Spaniards in September 1524. Thanks to its square-shaped design, its 28-meter long sides and its three cylindrical towers, the Château d’If had considerable firepower. However, the castle never actually had to defend Marseille against a military attack, which is probably a good thing.
During its 400 years of activity, the Château d’If was mainly used as a state prison. Its first two prisoners were fishermen from Marseille, who were locked up in November 1540. Due to the deplorable conditions of imprisonment, prisoners detained in ground floor cells had a life expectancy of only 9 months. On the first floor, more spacious cells were reserved for wealthy or prestigious prisoners.
Throughout its history, the fortress housed thousands of political prisoners, and Protestant galley-rowers that consistently refused to convert to Catholicism were thrown into the dungeons. Amongst other notable detainees, the Count of Mirabeau, the French Revolutionary hero, was incarcerated in the Château d’If. The castle is also home to the tomb of General Kléber, assassinated in Cairo in 1800.
The Château d’If is famous for being one of the settings of Alexandre Dumas’ adventure novel The Count of Monte Cristo. The protagonist, Edmond Dantès, is wrongfully detained in the fortress. The novel was a huge success and was translated worldwide. No less than twenty-three films are based on the novel. A dungeon on the first floor was even reconstructed for a film set!
What to see and what to do at the Château d’If?
Today, the Château d’If is a fascinating three-story square-shaped edifice. The rest of the island, extending over a surface of 3 hectares, is heavily defended, with high ramparts and artillery platforms overlooking the cliffs.
Your visit begins with the boat ride leading to the fortress. To visit the Château d’If, you will have to take a sea shuttle from the Old Port of Marseille to the island of If. This boat trip is a perfect opportunity to enjoy the view of the fort, the harbor of Marseille and get an idea of the power and strategic importance of the Château!
After arriving on the island, you will pass through the gates leading to the castle. Once you are inside the fortress itself, discover the various fortifications of the Château d’If, and make your way through the age-old bowels of the fort. Since the fortress was mainly used as a state prison, visitors are invited to discover the prisoners’ cells. The most interesting cells are the ones that used to house famous prisoners: those of Dantès, Mirabeau, the prisoner in an iron mask, and many others.
Finally, the Château d’If offers visitors one of the most beautiful views of the city of Marseille and its magnificent harbor. You won’t see one of the city’s most iconic buildings, the bold and modern Mucem, hidden by the Pointe du Pharo, but you will be able to see the Marseille waterfront and of course the Bonne Mère, perched high and overlooking the entire city. Make sure you climb to the top of the fortress to enjoy the splendid panorama!
The guides of Château d’If are never short of fascinating anecdotes, allowing visitors to learn more about the history of the city, France’s military past, and the many stories surrounding the history of the Château d’If.
How to visit the Château d’If?
Marseille Provence airport to the city center
Marseille Provence airport is one of the larger airports in France and you will find many flights from London , either Stansted or Heathrow, as well as from Edinburgh or Manchester. You can easily find a low-cost flight to these destinations on Skyscanner.
Many shuttles run between the airport and Marseille Train Station, in the center of the city. The public shuttle leaves every ten minutes and will get you from the airport to the train station in 25 minutes. Tickets cost 8,30€ for adults and 4,15€ for children.
To enjoy greater freedom of movement during your stay in the Phocaean city, you can also rent a car at the airport.
Marseille city center to the Chateau d’If
To visit the Château d’If, you will have to take a sea shuttle to access the islet. The following three companies offer this service:
– Croisières Marseille Calanques
– Icard Maritime: note that this company offers more frequent trips than the other two. Generally, a departure and return take place every hour between 10:15 am and 4:15 pm. The timetables and fares are detailed on the companies’ websites. Shuttle departures also depend on the weather.
These shuttles depart from the Vieux Port (Old Port) of Marseille. You can access the Old Port via the following means:
- Via the Metro
The nearest stop is “Vieux-Port – Hôtel de Ville.
- Via bus
The buses that will take you to the Vieux Port are the buses number 41, 57, 61, 61, 80, 81, 518, 521, and 540. Get off at the stop “Canebière Vieux Port.”
- By car
There are several car parks near the Vieux Port, you can book a spot online in advance.
The Château d’If: rates & opening hours
If you wish to visit the Château d’If, you can buy your ticket online (on the fortress’ official website) or on site, upon arrival by sea shuttle.
- Full price (adults): €6
- Reduced rate (Non-EU nationals and/or residents aged between 18 and 25 years): €5
- Free entrance for EU nationals and/or residents under 25 years old
Good to know: Free admission also applies to disabled people and their accompanying person, job seekers, as well as holders of the “Carte Culture”, the ICOM Card or the “Pass Education”.
- From January 2nd to April 1st: Open every day except Monday, from 10 am to 5 pm
- From April 2nd to September 30th: every day from 10 am to 6 pm
- From October 2nd to December 31st: Open every day except Monday, from 10 am to 5 pm
Also read : The best areas to stay in Marseille
GOOD TO KNOW
Before you visit the Château d’If, here are a few tips and things to know about this famous fortress:
– The site is not accessible to persons with mobility disabilities
– The screened film is subtitled
– There are toilets on site
– You can eat at the restaurant “Marseille en face”, open from April to October
– Guide and assistance dogs are allowed
– A tactile model and visit document are available in Braille
– Remember to bring appropriate shoes (adapted to the site’s rugged terrain)
– The Château d’If is closed on January 1st, May 1st, and December 25th.
– Opening hours may also vary depending on weather conditions.
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