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17 Place Louis Bonnefon | 13008 Marseille | France | Tel: +33 (0) 4 91 72 90 00
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Situated off the Vieux-Port, the islands of If, Pomègues, Ratonneau and Tiboulen form the Frioul archipelago, which is easily visible from the Corniche. The islands form a natural rampart, and for many centuries they protected the harbour of Marseille from invasions, military incursions and epidemics, since ships whose crew and passengers were affected by epidemics were kept there under quarantine. Nowadays, they are a tourist attraction that provides a true change of scenery to travellers seeking wild and arid landscapes, swept by the violence of the Mistral wind.
It is on the tiniest island of them all that the Château d’If was built and completed in 1531 at the initiative of Francis I, who promptly realised the strategic advantages of the site when he stopped over in Marseille on his way back from a campaign in Italy. He strengthened the defensive role of the archipelago.
The château’s purpose changed in the 18th century when it was turned into a prison for political opponents of the regime, in particular during the reign of Napoleon. Among them, was Alexandre Dumas, the writer, who was a critic of the empire and an admirer of the Revolution of 1848, and who made the island and its château world-renowned by using it as the setting of one of the most daring escapes in the history of literature, when the hero of The Count of Monte-Cristo, Edmond Dantès, the victim of a plot and a miscarriage of justice, manages to escape from the cells of the Château d’If.
According to the legends about the place, the Iron Mask was one of the regime’s opponents who were imprisoned there in utmost secrecy.
Nowadays, the cells of the Château d’If, which is listed as a historic monument, can be visited and take visitors back in time, plunging them into the eclectic history of the place.
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