Friday, August 14, 2015

Day 4: Marseille and Chateau d'If

My last day in Marseille. Time to squeeze in all the things I had been meaning to do but had put off in order to explore the rest of Provence.

I had booked a late flight so I had enough time to finally do the self-guided walking tour that I had picked up on day one. In theory, this should have been easy enough, since the city had been thoughtful enough to draw color-coded lines on the sidewalks to match the tour route. For the most part, this worked like a charm.  The problem was that the particular tour I had must not have the only version available and certain intersections had multi-colored lines vectoring off in each and every different direction. I was never fully able to ascertain which color I was supposed to be following.  By default, I ended up doing my own hybrid version of multiple tours.  As a result, I got a great overview of the old part of town.

I had already seen Fort St Jean from the sea but now I had a chance to explore it on land. Built in 1660 by Monsieur King Louis XIV, I'm sure it was interesting enough on its own but it was also attached to the national museum, which I'd really wanted to visit.

But in my hand was a timed boat ticket to visit Chateau D'If (aka the French Alcatraz).  There was not enough time to do both and the one that allowed me time on the water won out easily.

The Cathedrale de la Major proved a handy landmark while I did my tour and doubled as the place where all the lines converged

For four days, I had been seeing long lines of tourists waiting to purchase ferry tickets for the former fortress in the Frioul islands.  Since I had purchased my tickets early in the morning- something I totally recommend doing- I was able to just waltz on board right before departure time.

The Chateau d'If was originally a defensive fortification, albeit not a very well-thought out one.  The location was ideal, on a rocky island at the mouth of the harbour, meaning anyone coming from the sea was in their line of fire. But therein lay the problem, whoever designed the building did not take in account the elevation of the fort and placed the windows in such a way that once the offending ships were within striking range, the cannonballs/ arrows/ whatever they had on hand would sail harmlessly over the ship, at worst giving the attackers a nasty scare.  The windows were too high to effectively hit the body of any ships at close range  Lucky for them, they were never attacked.

It eventually became a jailhouse, housing mainly political prisoners, but its most famous resident was a purely fictional one.  Edmond Dantes, the lead character in Alexander Dumas' novel, Count of Monte Cristo, was imprisoned here.  The book was such a worldwide success that the island and it's poor excuse for a fortress became a tourist attraction.

At one point, Dumas himself came to visit and participated in a tour of the facilities.  The guide pointed out which cell was Dantes' and how he had managed to escape (don't even try to call this a spoiler when the book was released in 1844!), never bothering to mention that this was a work of fiction.  How surreal must it have been for Dumas to see his words coming to life via a lying tour guide.
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One exhibit shows the guest as prisoner via simple camerawork.

The Chateau remains a popular attraction and with good reason.  The history is interesting.  The location and view are spectacular.  And it is mere minutes from Marseille's harbour.  Mere minutes before I was back in the hostel, grabbing my bags and bidding au revoir to the warm sunshine and sweet lavender scent of the south of France.

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