November 13, 2014

1331 FRANCE (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur) - Château d'If

The Château d'If is a fortress located on the island of If, the smallest island in the Frioul archipelago situated in the Mediterranean Sea about a mile offshore in the Bay of Marseille. It was built in 1524-1531 on the orders of King François I as a defence against attacks from the sea, and was instantly controversial. Marseille had been annexed to France in 1481, but the city retained in theory the right to provide her own defence. The new Château was to many people an unwelcome reminder of royal authority. Although it successfully repelled an attack on the port by Charles V of Spain in 1536, the cannons gradually proved inadequate to reach invading ships, so it became a prison in the mid-16th century. Subsequent inhabitants over the next 200 years included 3,500 Huguenots and a Monsieur de Niozelles who was given six years for failing to take his hat off in the presence of Louis XIV. Others were imprisoned without trial, for minor misdemeanours. The island became famous in the 19th century when Alexandre Dumas used it as a setting for The Count of Monte Cristo.

The island measures 3 hectares and is heavily fortified; high ramparts with gun platforms surmount the cliffs that rise steeply from the surrounding ocean. The château is a square, three-story building 28m long on each side, flanked by three towers with large gun embrasures. The isolated location and dangerous offshore currents of the fortress made it an ideal escape-proof prison, very much like the island of Alcatraz in California. Its use as a prison ceased at the end of the 19th century. It was demilitarized and opened to the public on September 23, 1890. It can now be reached by boat from Marseille's old port.

About the stamp
The stamp is part of the definitive series issued on  July 16, 2014, about which I wrote here.

Château d'If - Wikipedia
The Château d'If and Frioul Islands - Marvellous Provence

Sender: Cătălin Frolov
Sent from La Valette-du-Var (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur / France), on 05.09.2014
Photo: Etienne Revault

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