A sign at the notorious jail claims that The Man in the Iron Mask was once held here, this seafarer’s gateway to North Africa.
The legend does not tally with the factual accounts of a prisoner who indeed existed, dying in the Bastille in 1703, but about whom precious little is certain.
Another inscrutable man with an impenetrable facade jetted into town this afternoon, as England landed in Marseille to launch their Rugby World Cup mission.
Steve Borthwick projects a ferrous face to the wider world, refusing to engage on difficult topics and insisting his England squad are cool, calm and collected.
The Red Rose head coach volunteers an entirely different veil in front of his closest friends, colleagues and confidants, however.
Borthwick is as fierce in his loyalty as he is in his judgment. So while he will stand firm with team-mates to the very end, he will also deliver the most brutal of blows when he deems it required.
The 43-year-old made total honesty his chief manifesto pledge when he took the helm in December.
The inference was of an instinctive man-manager ready to respect and empower his players. The reality has proven the other side of that Borthwick persona.
The England boss started his senior playing career in 1998, just three years into the professional era. His first forays at Bath came undoubtedly amid an amateur ethos, where one big dog would not just eat another, but savage the sorry specimen.
Those were the end of the Darwinian days for English rugby, and Borthwick remains a product of those almost sadistic environments.
So, when wing Jonny May this week explained the brutal way in which Borthwick dropped him from the World Cup squad, the revelation was little surprise. The Cumbrian hardman swung his tact and subtlety like a sledgehammer to the head.
A whole week before he named the World Cup squad, Borthwick landed a triple whammy on Gloucester stalwart May.
First, he would not be in the World Cup 33, second, he would not play against Wales that weekend — and third, he still wanted May to keep training that week to help England prepare. May’s first child, baby boy Jaxon, had only been born two months earlier.
Borthwick will stand firm with team-mates to the very end, but he will also deliver the most brutal of blows when he deems it required
The 33-year-old stormed off, as stunned as he was furious. May crashed some weights around in the gym at England’s Bagshot base, then quickly stomped back to have it out with Borthwick for real.
The 73-cap wing demanded to know why he should stay. Borthwick said May was the first reserve among the wings, so would step up in the event of any injury. Then he added that it would not look favourable should he quit the World Cup preparations only to be called back in the event of injury.
The subtext here was clear: go home now, and if anyone in your position gets injured, I may well look elsewhere for a replacement. Stay, and you are still in the frame for that World Cup call.
Rugby will rightly never be a place for the faint-hearted, but this was equal parts menacing and passive aggressive.
The luckless Anthony Watson’s calf injury later handed May a World Cup reprieve, and now the speed king has gone from cast-off to taking on the Pumas this weekend.
England are still desperately seeking their Test match identity under Borthwick, who has overseen six defeats in his nine matches. Saturday’s opener presents an opponent that might never, ever struggle to know their true selves. Argentina are unadulterated passion, raw scrummaging power — and no little Latin flair. Wily head coach Michael Cheika knows exactly how to pump up the Pumas, matching head with heart.
He has steered Argentina under the radar so far at this tournament, with the Pumas hardly putting collective heads above the parapet. If Cheika were concerned about the readiness of his players, he would be courting attention; that he is not represents a problem for England.
Alexandre Dumas penned the seminal novel on The Man in the Iron Mask, but also set his classic prison-break yarn The Count of Monte Cristo in this very Cote d’Azur city. When Sunday morning breaks on Marseille, England will either be behind the bars of failure, or unshackled in victory.