Until the 16th century, If was an uninhabited island and an occasional haven for local fishermen. The Chateau d’If was constructed on a tiny island in the Bay of Marseilles in France, and was erected as part of the island’s defenses. Finished in 1529, the fortress, whose first stone was laid down by King Francois I in 1516 consists of the chateau, church and a guardhouse.
Soon after, the fortress changed its purpose and became a prison. Rebels, ruffians and refractory galley slaves inhabited it off and on throughout the years. In 1634, the chateau was used as a detention center for political prisoners. From 1689 on, the Protestants were thrown en masse into the dungeons where many died horribly.
Its most famous and romantic prisoner is the fictional inmate Edmond Dantès, the hero of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Montecristo. Imaginary or not, you can visit his cell as well as the cell of the Man in the Iron Mask who, contrary to legend, is as likely to have stayed there as the marquis de Sade. Among the certifiable prisoners one finds Joseph Custoldi de Faria, hypnotizer and spiritualist as well as a sailor who seems to have inspired the writer with his character of Edmond Dantès. Throughout the centuries the island has received several guests, such as a rhinoceros in 1516, a gift from the king of Portugal in transit to the Vatican. During World War II the Germans used it for its strategic position.