We disembarked the ferry on the tiny speck of land known as If Island about one mile off the coast of Marseille and proceeded to make our way up the winding cobble stone path. It was a fairly steep climb flanked by tall, imposting walls that zigzagged up to the main entrance. While the island is no longer an active military base, the layout of the entrance is perfectly suited for defending the island from attackers. On the way up, I began rummaging through my pocked for the entry fee and realized that lady at the ticket counter only charged me €10 instead of €15 for the ferry. Thrilled by the delightful surprise, I approached the ticket counter to pay the €5 fee to enter Chateau d’If and they let me in for free thanks to my Bocconi student ID.
This day just keeps getting better and better.
The island of If, while minuscule, is rather entertaining as long as you don’t set your expectations too high. The entire island is heavily fortified and was once a naval outpost built to protect Marseille. The fortress ended up serving more as a deterrent than anything else and never actually saw combat, but in 1516 the structure was covered into a prison for high profile political and religious figures. Similar to Alcatraz in California, If’s location made it the ideal, escape-proof prison and quickly became one of the most infamous jails in all of France. The prison's notoriety, however, didn't become well known to the rest of the world until the publication of Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo where the main protagonist of the story, Edmond Dantes, is wrongly imprisoned.
My last day in Marseille turned out to be an incredibly wonderful “bonus” day that a mere six hours ago I never expected. The unknown surprises that each day holds is without a doubt the best part of traveling! I eventually made my way back to the hostel and resumed banging my head against the common room table as I figured out transportation to Bern. Just when I thought this wonderful day was over, I found out there was a spectacular firework show over Vieux-Port celebrating Bastille Day! I love this city so much!
Marseille will forever go down as the city of surprises!