If Island The Legend

The silhouette of Chateau d’If on the horizon

The outlines of Chateau d’If are visible along most of the coastline of Marseille. The island doesn’t look distant and sometimes it does. A castle on a tiny island, a prison off the coast of the city, the story of an unjustly imprisoned Edmond Dantès who escaped, became rich, and took intelligently revenge. So goes that famous adventure novel by Alexander Dumas. Today, Chateau d’If is a historical monument and yes, one of the prison rooms is named after the Count of Monte Cristo.

Leaving Marseille behind
Boats exiting Vieux Port

With photography friend Faty, I visited the island on a very sunny Sunday. She knew everything about If while I always had been going straight to neighboring island Frioul, a small archipelago that interests me because it is larger and great for hiking. For once, I should visit If island and see for myself of what is so legendary about the place which history began in 1528 as an outpost for the military.

Arriving at If island
Seagull presence
Chateau d’If
View of Marseille from If island

Apart from low ground cover plants the island is bare and surrounded by a wall but the massive castle makes its presence felt. From fortress to prison, a shift in function in 1540, for more than three centuries the chateau operated as a jail, the last convict leaving the island in 1914. When I entered the ‘rooms’ inside the castle I was struck by how cold they were while the island is fully exposed to the sun. The walls are massively thick. How was it living here as a prisoner?

Inside the entrance of the castle
Prison rooms of the castle
A view a prisoner would not see
The highest tower of Chateau d’If
Farewell to the seagull

The only way for the guards to live on this island was to stay inside its few buildings to avoid the heat of the sun. For the ‘poor’ prisoners their space was without windows, stark dark and ice cold. For prisoners of higher status there were the rooms with a narrow window but with a temperature almost as cold. Prisoners inside the windowless spaces might live for only nine months and die. No doubt this was harsh punishment here, which makes Alexander Dumas’ novel ‘The Count of Monte Cristo‘ such a captivating story of endurance and courage.

Frioul village and harbor
Frioul village blends with the rocks
Boat owners come here to picnic and swim
The seagull
Waiting for the boat to return to Marseille

It takes fifteen minutes from If island to Frioul archipelago. Arriving in the harbor of Frioul you immediately wonder why people would want to live here. No tree no shade. But boat owners know why. To get out of the city and enjoy the tranquility of the island while the bareness of the Frioul archipelago with its wild ground cover plants on limestone rock gives unique panoramic views of Marseille’s diverse coastline.

Returning to Marseille
Entering Vieux Port
Arriving at the quay

The current exhibition at ‘Musée Regards de Provence’ shows paintings on the theme From Port to Ports with Vieux Port depicted from all possible corners. Paintings by post-impressionists reveal the colors that come straight from the painter’s heart and mind.

Voiliers dans le Vieux Port de Marseille – 1905 by Charles Camoin (1879-1945)

All Photos Copyright © 2019-2022 August Timmermans – All Rights Reserved