Who is the Man in the Iron Mask ? Is he the identical twin of King Louis 1V or is he the father of the King Louis 1V ? There are many legends that surround the mysterious prisoner, a man whose tale was wrought with intrigue, illegitimacy, sex, murder and lies. In a rare case of truth being stranger than fiction, this man’s identity was never known as he wore an iron mask until his death. I was introduced to the Man in the Iron Mask by Alexander Dumas whose Three Musketeers remains an eternal favourite. The story of this prisoner is more than 400 years old but no one knows the true tale of the man who was shunted to various prisons for 34 years, of which he spent 14 years of his confinement in a prison in a little island, barely a 15 minutes ferry ride from Cannes – Ile Sainte Marguerite.
I was sitting with the good people at Citadines Cannes and they were helping me plan an itinerary based on my interests when Ana at the reception asked me if I was interested in a prison in an island tucked away from Cannes with a historic twist to it. I was all for it. And that is how we discussed the story of the man in the iron mask. Loved the people at Citadines for this..they take a personal interest in every guest. Anyways the port was barely a 15 minute walk from the residence and I set off to buy my tickets.
It was a bright and sunny morning and the Mediterranean sea was sparkling in shades of azure. No wonder the French Riviera is called Cote D’ Azur after the brilliant blue. The entire quay was filled with yachts, their masts almost touching the sky. It was a carnival of sorts. The painters and the sculptors set up stalls displaying their work . Canvases flooded the pavement. Mermaids stepped out as carvings. Knick knacks from a sailor’s life was up for sale. I got lost in the colourful melee and almost forgot about the island trip.
Finally we set sail, with the seagulls following us and the water splashing on our faces. The skyline of Cannes faded out of view and my eyes and lens were focussing on the verdant environs of the island that seemed to suddenly sprang up from the ocean bed. Families were out on a picnic, some students were on a field trip and plenty of tourists like me were on the ferry.Yachts were sailing past each other as in a regatta while speed boats were cruising on the waters. The sea was so clear that I could almost see the ocean depth with its rich bio diversity. The island itself was so verdant with several trails that it is a hiker’s paradise.
Ile Sainte Marguerite is the largest of the four islands of Lerins and is inhabited like the other smaller island, Sainte Honorat, It is believed that it was inhabited as early as 6th century BC to 4th century AD and was apparently a sanctuary with a divine touch. The Romans had control over the coast for a while as well. The adjacent Sainte Honorat island , named after the saint who lived there was called Lerina while Ile Sainte Marguerite was named after his sister . It was called Lero in ancient times .
As I climbed up a small path along a dense wooded path, with trees on either side, some parting ways to give me a glimpse of the coast, I saw the formidable Fort Royal built in the 17th century. Walking past the gate, the bastions and the barracks, I finally found a museum which showcases ship wrecks and ancient rooms. But I headed to the dark corridors which houses the prisons. And in one dingy room was the story connected to the Man in the Iron Mask. It is believed that more than 60 identities have been suggested to the man behind the iron mask, but as Victor Hugo, said, he still remains an enigma. Only his jailer, Saint Mars, the governor of the fortress has apparently seen his face but has left no trace of the same. The Man in the Iron Mask lived a life deprived of not just his freedom but his identity as well. Standing there alone in the tiny cell, I imagined who he could be – was he meant to be one of the kings of France ?
I walked out into the open to see a group of students playing while some tourists posed against the sea. I stood there staring at the yachts, their sails fluttering in the breeze . It must have been for a long time, for I suddenly felt a shadow passing me by and I shivered a bit, still thinking about the Man in the Iron Mask . And in the distance, I could finally see the ferry bringing back a group of tourists from Cannes as I retraced my journey back to the mainland,leaving the legend behind in a dark cell.
To read more about Cannes, see my post – My First Impressions of Cannes
And if you have not voted for me as yet, do visit Citadines Moments #30 website at http://www.citadinesmoments30.com/en/
Coming up next – Berlin, Germany.