More Than History: the Château d’If

Some tourist sites are really beautiful. Some have historical significance. Then, some fall into the category of literary significance. These are, of course, my favorite.

One of the main reasons we visited Marseille was to see the Château d’If- former 16th century fortress, gloomy prison and (most importantly) pivotal setting in The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. Oddly, I’ve never read the book, but it’s one of Mike’s favorites, so after a last minute viewing of the most recent movie version we were both psyched to go.

The château sits in the bay outside Marseille, similar to Alcatraz. In it’s day it was a gloomy prison- one of the most notorious jails in France. It’s isolated location made escape nearly impossible and many political and religious prisoners were sent to languish in the dark stone cells.

Today though, it’s a popular tourist attraction, easily reachable by ferry from the main harbor of Marseille. They come for the prison but most of all, they come for the book. Since it’s publication the Count of Monte Cristo has never gone out of print, has been published in nearly every language and has inspired 29 movie versions. Now I feel bad for not having read it.

Of course, literary tourism is kind of weird. This island is primarily famous for something that never actually happened. It’s a testament to the strength of the story that you can actually forget that fact and so easily imagine Edmond Dantes locked away in the imposing building. Mike and I even found ourselves speculating which side of the island he must have escaped from.

The tourism center seemed a bit confused on how to handle that as well. Throughout the fortress are plaques- some tell the history of the island and some talk about the novel. There’s a corridor dedicated to Alexander Dumas and a sign pointing out Edmond Dantes cell (how did they decide which one was his?).

Special thanks to for sponsoring our European adventure!

8 Responses to More Than History: the Château d’If

  1. Craig in New England October 23, 2012 at 11:12 AM #

    Marseille is such a beautiful town. I spent a night there during my semester aboard in France, although I did not get to visit the prison. It was winter and very cold and the town was dead with tourist season over. But your post convinced me to add it to the list of towns to revisit the next time I’m in France 🙂

  2. Ashley of Ashley Abroad October 23, 2012 at 11:37 AM #

    Well at least the prisoners had a beautiful view! I will definitely put this on my places to see in France list 🙂

    • Steph October 23, 2012 at 1:06 PM #

      That was my feeling too. Sure you might be in a horrible hell-prison, but at least you’re on an island off the coast of france right?

  3. Julika October 23, 2012 at 4:34 PM #

    Impressive sight! Now that you’ve said it, literary tourism really is a strange thing… Nonetheless, I was totally psyched when I finally got to see King’s Cross and platform 9 3/4 this year – maybe these literary memorials make literature become so real that the heroes of your youth are actually present there? 🙂

  4. Liz October 23, 2012 at 7:03 PM #

    Literary tourism is my favorite! I went to Den Haag just to see “The Girl With the Pearl Earring” painting because I read the book when I was young. I think it’s a great way to travel!

  5. Natasha McEachron October 23, 2012 at 10:56 PM #

    I absolutely loved “The Count of Monte Cristo” and Alexandre Dumas is one of my favorite authors. I’d never though of visiting the Chateua d’If but it looks interesting and might make it on my list of places to visit if I ever make it Marseille. Great photos!

  6. Amanda October 24, 2012 at 6:35 PM #

    Haha, they actually labeled his cell? That’s funny.

  7. Alyson March 30, 2013 at 4:38 PM #

    When we were in Marseille, the wind was so bad we couldn’t make it out to the island! I was disappointed to miss it.

    I understand the whole literary confusion. We visited Bran (Dracula’s Castle) in Romania and they weren’t sure how to handle that either.

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