Le Château d’If

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noun - Le Château d’If is a fortress and later a prison located on the island of If, the smallest island in the Frioul archipelago situated in the Mediterranean Sea about a mile offshore in the Bay of Marseille in southeastern France.

Contents

If Island

Île d’If is located 3.5 kilometers west of the Vieux Port in Marseille. The entire island is heavily fortified; high ramparts with gun platforms surmount the cliffs that rise steeply from the surrounding ocean. Apart from the fortress, the island is uninhabited.

Château

The fortress is a square, three-story building 28m long on each side, flanked by three towers with large gun embrasures. It was built in 1524-31 on the orders of King Francis I. The castle's principal military value was as a deterrent; it never had to fight off an actual attack.

Prison

The isolated location and dangerous offshore currents of the Château d'If made it an ideal escape-proof prison, very much like the island of Alcatraz in San Francisco, California was in more modern times. Its use as a dumping ground for political and religious detainees soon made it one of the most feared and notorious jails in France. The island became internationally famous in the 19th century when Alexandre Dumas used it as a setting for The Count of Monte Cristo, published to widespread acclaim in 1844. In the book, the main character Edmond Dantès (a commoner who later purchases the noble title of Count) and his mentor, Abbé Faria, were both imprisoned in it. After fourteen years, Dantès makes a daring escape from the castle, becoming the first person ever to do so and survive. In reality, no one is known to have done this.

The château's use as a prison ceased at the end of the 19th century. It was demilitarized and opened to the public in 1890. The Château d'If is listed as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture.

Prison Island Swims

Le Château d’If is one of the 8 open water swims of the Octad of Open Water Swims or Prison Island Swims that includes the following open water swims around formerly well-guarded isolated prison islands. Robben Island, Alcatraz Island, Spike Island and Rottnest Island are now 21st century sites better known for challenging open water swims with tricky currents and surrounding marine life. Convicts of the past have given way to contemporary open water swimming traditionalists and wetsuit-clad triathletes and swimmers.

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