Château d'If in Marseille, France
© Boris Stroujko/Shutterstoc
A prison fit for a count
Château d’If, off the coast of Marseille, France, was built beginning in 1524 as a fortress by King Francis I because of the tiny island’s steep cliffs and strategic location. While the 'château' never gained notoriety defending the ancient port (since it was never attacked), it did become famous as a prison. Surrounded by treacherous currents—like Alcatraz in San Francisco—it gained a reputation starting 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 one famous tale of an escape from the château by one Edmond Dantes, the titular hero of the 1844 Alexander Dumas novel 'The Count of Monte Cristo.' And though he is a work of fiction, you can visit Edmond Dantes’ 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.