Located about one nautical mile off the coast of Marseille, the Château d’If, perched on a three-hectare limestone island, was built in the 16th century when Francis I of France wished to erect a fortress to protect the kingdom from foreign invasion by sea.
The Château was such a good deterrent that it was never attacked.
The fortress' insular location and structure made it an ideal prison, from which escape was impossible – with the notable exception of the legendary Edmond Dantès, the Count of Monte Cristo and protagonist of Alexandre Dumas' literary classic.
The Château d'If assumed its prison function just a few years after it was completed, in the mid-16th century. The gaol's first convict was most likely Knight Anselme, accused in 1580 of plotting against the monarchy.
Young men of means were also incarcerated at If, imprisoned by lettre de cachet (an order bearing the king's seal), the most famous of whom was Mirabeau, imprisoned at his father’s request in 1774.
After opponents to the monarchy, the cells were filled with countless Protestants, incarcerated after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Over two hundred years, the fortress held 3,500 Protestants, many of whom left a trace of their presence by leaving inscriptions on the castle walls.
General Kleber was the prison's last famous resident, albeit after his death. After being assassinated in Cairo, his body was repatriated to If. His coffin stayed there for 18 years.
The Château d'If was opened to the public in 1890 and listed as an historic monument by decree on July 7th, 1926.
The island of If, which is part of Calanques National Park, is home to a variety of protected flora and fauna.