Later on, the fortress was transformed into a prison. Its isolated location and the dangerous off-shore currents made it an ideal prison site ( similar to San Francisco’s Alcatraz). Because so many political and religious prisoners were detained here, Chateau d’If became one of the most notorious and feared jails in France.
In the mid-19th century, the island gained international fame when Alexander Dumas used it as the setting for “The Count of Monte Christo.” The current chateau maintains a rough hewn dungeon as a tourist attraction in honor of Dumas’ fictional character, Edmond Dantes. While another novel “ The Man in the Iron Mask,” has some believe that Chateau d’If is the setting for its main character, there is little or no evidence to substantiate this belief.
During the time the chateau served as a prison, a very definite class system was in existence. The poor were housed in the bottom level cold and damp cells, often with twenty or more detainees in each. The wealthy, meanwhile, could purchase private cells higher up, with windows and a fireplace.
By the end of the 19th century, Chateau d’If ceased to function as a prison and was opened to the public (September of 1890) as a tourist attraction. In addition to Dumas’s novel, the Château has been featured in a number of fictional works, including “The French Connection” and Clive Cussler’s novel “Spartan Gold.”