Château d'If in Marseille, France
© Boris Stroujko/Shutterstoc
A prison fit for a count
Château d’If, off the coast of Marseille, was built as a fortress by the French king Francis I from 1524, because of the tiny island’s steep cliffs and strategic location. While the château never made its name defending the ancient port (as it was never attacked), it did gain notoriety as a prison. Surrounded by treacherous currents, it developed a reputation in the late 16th century as a dumping ground for powerful political and religious prisoners. As far as official records go, none of the prisoners condemned there ever escaped.
However, there is a famous tale of an escape from the château by one Edmond Dantès, the titular hero of the 1844 Alexandre Dumas novel The Count of Monte Cristo. And although he is a work of fiction, you can visit his cell on the lower level of the prison. The nearly perfectly preserved castle is just a short ferry ride from the docks of the old port of Marseille.