If-Castle and Frioul Islands
Until the 16th century, If is an uninhabited island and the occasional haven of fishermen. It is François I, who, during a visit to Marseille in 1516, assesses its strategic importance and gives the order to build a fortress on it.
In a very short time, the fortress changes its purpose and becomes a prison. Rebels, ruffians and refractory galley slaves stayed there for more or less long periods.
From 1689 onwards, the Protestants are thrown en masse into the unhealthy dungeons where many of them die. However, the fortress offers quite decent living conditions to distinguished prisoners.
The most famous prisoner was without José Custodio Faria, whom Alexandre Dumas immortalized in the Count of Monte Cristo. After having received the revels of 1848 and the communards of 1871, the fortress lost its prison character and was opened to the public in 1890. As regards Edmond Dantès, the Count of Monte Christo, the chronicle of If has no trace of his imprisonment. On the other hand, the hole which he dug in the wall of one of the cells is still very visible.
The Château d'If can be visited thanks to a regular boat service and welcomes every year more than 90 000 visitors.
The Frioul Islands
The Frioul archipelago points to the coast the relief of its 4 islands: Pomègues, Ratonneau, If and Tiboulen.
Calanques, beaches, sandy creeks, impressive cliffs, the light quality and the water transparency make the islands a spot of great beauty. Still a conservation area, it is an authentic encounter in the Mediterranean sea. The microclimate generates original and rare floral species, adapted to the conditions of aridity that characterize the spot. Furthermore, the Mistral is the great actor of the islands, it sculpts, gnaws and arranges them.
The islands are also the kingdom of plants called "xérophytes" because of the dryness and "alophytes" because of the salt and their strange forms. 200 species can be observed and some are protected.
These islands are also a refuge for numerous birds. They are, for example, the favorite domain of the Caspian Gull, called "gabian" in Provence.
Since 1971 the Frioul Archipelago belongs to the city of Marseille. The little village "Port Frioul" was created in 1974. There are some restaurants, a leasure port with 700 rings that welcomes numerous visitors. This island also is the shelter of the first biological aquaculture, for bass, in the world.
On the Frioul island, many creeks can be reached after a walk as well as lovely beaches : Maison des Pilotes (sand), le Havre de Morgiter (cobblestones and rocks), the calanque of Saint Estève (sand), the "plage du débarcadère" (cobblestones).
The Caroline Hospital
The history of these islands goes back to the Quaternary period when they were united to the continent : the discovery of bear- and dear-bones confirm this theory.
But it is in the 6th century before JC that the islands history really begins, in the same time as the history of Massalia. During all the centuries, the islands are stops for the Mediterranean sailors, warriors or adventurers. Later on, the sanitary function takes a large part in the protection of Marseille. In the early 19th century the architect Michel-Robert Penchaud built the Caroline hospital on Ratonneau island to care for patients suffering from yellow fever.