If Castle from Fortress to Literary Legend

If Castle was where the hero, Edmond Dantes, was imprisoned. In 1844, Alexandre Dumas published The Count of Monte Cristo, an immediate success.

After being entranced by the verbal reading of both volumes of the The Count of Monte Cristo, during his early home schooled years, when John visited Marseille, he was excited to visit Ch√Ęteau d'If.

Built in 1529, on the orders of Francois I, If Castle was the first royal fortress of Marseille. It had a threefold role: protecting one of the kingdom's main trade ports from a Spanish or Turkish invasion; covering the exits and the anchorage of the new fleet of royal galleys; and thirdly, watching over Marseille, which had been part of France since 1480.

In 1591, the cit refused to recognize King Henry IV, because he was a Protestant. On the side of the Catholic League, it welcomed the enemy troops of the Duke of Savoy. The governor of If, who was faithful to the king, had an enclosure built with the help of Florentine tropps, thus protecting the entrance to the kingdom from attack. This enclosure was raised by Henry IV's military engineer, Raymond de Bonnefons, in 1604, and again by Vauban in 1701.

The construction of If Castle was part of a vast campaign to fortify the coasts and ports of the Kingdom of France in the early 16h century.

Ground floor of If Castle


Gate: the only access to the fortress is located in the middle of the east facade. Flanked by two artillery towers and protected by a bartizan, it has a drawbridge above a dry ditch. The portcullis, at the front of the entrance to the courtyard, prevented assailants from advancing.

The Inner Courtyard housed the kitchens in its south-east corner, the grain store and the rainwater well. On the courtyard walls, built from "Pierre du Midi" stone, there are a total of 96 pieces of commemorative graffiti, carved by insurgents between June 1848 and April 1849. On the south facade there is the Protestant memorial, inaugurated in 1962.
Man in the Iron Mask
Man in the Iron...

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In the dungeons, which were previously storerooms, then barracks, there is an exhibition devoted to Alexandre Dumas and If Castle. At the back of the gallery on a Midi stone cornerstone, graffiti dating from the Marseille uprising, based on the model of the 1848 commemorations, can be seen.

The cell named after Edmond Dantes, Count of Monte Cristo, occupies the site of the former powder room. There is a hole in the vault leading into the neighboring dungeon.
Edmond Dantes Imprisoned in the Chateau D'If, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Edmond Dantes...
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The dungeon named after Abbe Faria, is fitted with video equipment, enabling visitors to see themselves locked up there.
The Count of Monte Cristo
The Count of...
English School
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First floor


The first floor casemates, transformed into pistoles (a coin, and by extension, the name of a rented cell), bear witness to the first efforts to change the fortress into a prison; the chimneys and murals date back to the 17th and 18th centuries.

In the 'Man in the iron mask' pistole, the remains of a wooden hoist can be seen: this operated the portcullis on the front gate to the castle. There is an exhibition displaying all the aspects of the Monte Cristo legend, which extends into the Maugouvert Tower.
Man in the Iron Mask
Man in the Iron...

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The cell attributed to Kleber, who was assassinated in Cairo in 1800 at the end of Napoleon's expedition to Egypt. His body lay here from 1801-1818. A display by Bernard Belluc, co-founder of the International Museum of Modest Art in Sete, depicts Kleber's fate.

Count of Mirabeau's cell: he was imprisoned here form 1774 to 1775.

A so-called 'death row dungeon' was built into the staircase leading to the terrace.

The Terrace


These vast terraced roofs were still used as observation and telemetry posts during the Second World War. The sloped surfaces drained the rainwater off to the cistern in the courtyard.

From the Maugouvert Tower, which has a very low parapet, the reefs dotted along the channels in the eastern bay can be see in: Sourdaras and Canoubier to the north-east, and Saint-Esteve to the south-west. The two rectangular vents in the south wall can be seen on the right.

Saint-Jaume Tower: the curved parapet was designed to deflect cannon balls. The 19th-century lighthouse can be seen and beyond it, Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde hill in Marseille, where Francois I ordered the construction of a bastioned fort in 1536.

The keep or Saint-Christophe Tower is accessible from the terraces via a door wide enough to let the artillery through. On the facade on the left, a hollow column directed the rainwater to the old latrines, which jut out from the south wall of the tower.

Inside, the model is a copy of the one ordered by Louis XIV. A spiral staircase leads to the terrace overlooking the entire site from a height of 42 meters. The Midi stone has been written on by several prisoners. To the north, the primitive curved parapets of Saint-Jaume Tower and the two rectangular vents on the north wall can be seen. To the south, the keep overlooks the end of Pomegues and Ratonneau Islands, which also had cannon towers built after 1610 to guard the passage. Go to main France page after If Castle.