"...the sudden appearance of this strange shape, this prison shrouded in such deep terror, this fortress which for three centuries has nourished Marseille with its gloomy legends, had the same effect as the spectacle of the scaffold on a condemned man."So describes Alexadre Dumas of the island prison in which protagonist Edmond Dantes is incarcerated in The Count of Monte Cristo. The novel made the island fortress famous, but behind the legend lies the truth of the "terrible" Chateau d'If.
Lying on the island of If off the coast of Marseille, France, the Chateau d'If was constructed in 1524 under the rule of Francis I. Marseille was annexed by Francis and the fortress was erected as a means to "protect" the new province. However, it is thought that the island fortress served more to discourage any uprisings from the city against its new ruler than to keep it safe from harm. In truth, the stronghold was poorly constructed and did not see any combat - from foreign shores or otherwise.
In the late 17th century, the fort was converted to a state prison into which protestants and politicians thrown when the political tide of France flowed against them. It has since been demilitarized and is now a popular tourist attraction of Southeastern France.
Note: Although this video shows signs of the cells of Edmond Dantes and "The Man in the Iron Mask", there is no record of these individuals having been incarcerated in the Chateau.
And so, in stark contrast to the horror that Dumas pours into Chateau d'If in The Count, the true story is quite benign. Although one may be disappointed at the lack of spirits haunting the stone walls, it serves as an excellent example of how an author can spark the imagination of his or her readers. Stay tuned for more spotlights on the places and people of The Count of Monte Cristo!