The Basilica Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde is on the highest hill in Marseille, 162 meters above sea level, so it can be seen from most places in the city and the harbor. It is a colorful, friendly church nicknamed the “good mother”. Even secular people tend to like it and feel that it casts a protective aura over the city.
Unlike the basilicas Sacré-Coeur in Paris or Notre-Dame de Fourvière in Lyon, Marseille’s Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde was not begun in the 1870s and was not intended as a reactionary monument to celebrate the defeat of the Paris and Lyon communes in 1871.
Rather, it was begun in 1853 and was consecrated in 1864. The architect was a man named Jacques Henri Espérandieu who was only twenty-three years old when he got the commission – and he was a Protestant, though this is definitely a Catholic church.
Late one afternoon I decided to walk up to Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde from the Cours d’Estienne-d’Orves, near the Old Port. It’s an uphill walk, of course, but pleasant and well-signposted. At each turn you get a different view of the church, the city and the harbor.
Fifth photo: The top of the hill is rather steep, so there is a long stone stairway to climb. I did not find this to be a problem, but if you have bad knees you might want to take the # 60 bus instead.
In any case, there are some impressive views from the top (next tip).
Even though I arrived too late to go inside the Basilica Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde – it’s open till eight during the summer, but only till seven the rest of the year – I did at least get to see the great views of Marseille from the parvis at the front of the building.
Third photo: Sunset from Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde. After watching the sunset, I took the # 60 bus to get back down to the Old Port.
As I said in the previous tip, it is worth the trek up to Notre Dame de la Garde for the views over the city. Looking north, the Vieux Port is just about visible among all the red tiled roofs, and you realise just how low-rise the city centre is. On a smaller hill across the Vieux Port is the old Panier quarter, with the modern port stretching north towards L'Estaque, the tallest building for miles around being Zaha Hadid's newly build Tour French Line. The waters are busy, with ferries heading to Tunisia, Algeria and Corsica competing with cruise ships, as well as yachts and small pleasure boats heading out to the Isles du Frioul and Chateau d'If, the rocky islets just off the harbour entrance. Marseille spreads inland for some distance, with high-rise suburbs climbing up the hillsides. To the south, Olympique du Marseille football stadium and Le Corbusier's Unite d'Habitation just about visible, then further round there's the Corniche, Marseille's playground of cliffs and sandy beaches, all the way to the start of Les Calanques.
Probably Marseille's main landmark, visible from many places in the city, the Basilique de Notre Dame de la Garde stands guard on a high point, overing panoramic views over the city and the surrounding coastline. It's a bit of a walk to get here, all uphill through a mostly residential neighbourhood far from the other sights, but you could take one of the little noddy trains if you can't be bothered to walk...either way, don't miss it, as both the views from the terrace and the interior of the basilica are quite special.
Built in the 1860s, it's not really that old, but was built on the site of a much older chapel. White and black stone is used to create a stripy effect on the outside, and the stripy theme continues inside, albeit in brighter colours. I think I was expecting the interior to be quite gloomy and austere, like many large cathedrals are in Britain, but this one was a riot of colour, lots of gold and red and orange. Hanging from the ceiling are model ships and planes, supposed to signify shipwrecks and plane crashes from which survivors were pulled, a testament to the protection of Notre Dame. It might sound a bit corny and cheap, but the overall effect is quite impressive.
Notre Dame de la Garde is the name of the Roman Catholic Byzantine Basilica that sits on a high hill overlooking Marseille. Easily seen day and night when it is lit up.
The Basilica really is an architectural masterpiece, as part of it is lighthouse, part fortress, part sacred place of pilgrimage.
The current Basilica was built in 1853 and consecrated in 1864.
I really like the style of the Roman-Byzantine multi-coloured striped stone Basilica, it's different!
At the top, is a monumental statue of the Virgin holding baby Jesus, both are coated in gold leaf.
The gilded statue is 36 feet high. It arrived in Marseille by train and was installed in 1870 and is re-gilded every 25 years.
Watch out, she is looking over you when in Marseille!
Pilgrimage is yearly, on Assumption Day, August 15
If you are interested in statistics, check the plaque by the steps.
A MUST SEE IN MARSEILLE!
OPEN.... 7am to 7pm.
ADMISSION IS FREE
We came here on the Little Tourist Train which operates during the Summer months.
The Notre Dame Basilica also has a Crypt which I paid a visit to. The Crypt has been here since 1855, when it was only dug out of a solid piece of rock. Since those times, the Crypt has been renovated, and now can be entered by crossing the drawbridge beneath the bell tower. There is a lovely statue of the Virgin with a Bouquet, and a multicolored crucifix dating from the 16th century.
Check out the monumental bronze doors as you walk in or out, they weigh close to 2,000 kilograms and lead to the upper sanctuary!
Open daily from 7am to 7pm
Admission is free.
The La Garde hill is the highest point of the city (154 m) and has always served as a lookout point.
It is here, where in 1524 a Fort was located to help protect the city of Marseille. Now, the Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica is located on the remains of the Fort foundations.
A walk around the Basilica walls and terraces is a MUST DO, the views are fabulous in all directions.
There are photo boards identifying the main sights that your are viewing from the terraces.
It was one of the best views I have seen of a City, Harbour and surroundings!
Time to venture inside with the crowd, yes, its crowded as its very popular.
Here, you have that overwhelming Islamic feeling coming from the colours, the mosaics, the arches, olives, palm trees, exotic birds, mountains of gold leaf and a lovely ship with sails in Marseille's blue and white colours, just gorgeous. This is to do with the cities maritime connections, there were small reminders everywhere, even intricate models of boats hanging from the ceiling and in glass cases.
There is lots to see here, so allow plenty of time for a visit.
OPEN....7 - 7PM
ADMISSION IS FREE
To reach Notre Dame, either come by 60 bus from the Old Port
Take the Petit Train (Little Train) on the Quai des Belges (just outside the La Samaritaine brasserie)
On foot, it's a steepish 1km climb from the Quai de Rive Neuve.
Notre Dame de la Garde (Our Lady of the Guard) sits atop the highest point in Marseille overlooking all of the vast city, most people come up for the views over Marseille but since you are up there and entry is free, certainly it's worthwhile popping in for a look
The petit train stops at Notre Dame and lets people off, the only spot on that particular circuit where the train stops. There is also a public bus that makes the journey
Impressive sight perched high above Marseille and worth a visit for the great views over the city and the bus ride up there (later tip) is memorable too.
Anyway, Notre Dame herself looks good from close up as well, didn't venture inside, a good place to visit on a clear day.
In 1214, the abbot of St Victor allowed a hermit, Master Peter, to construct a chapel on this hill. He quite naturally called it the Chapel de la Garde, the name of the hill on which there was a watch tower. Over the years this chapel became a pilgrimage for Christians. In 1477 a new chapel was built on the site of the old one.
Frangais I had a fort built on the la Garde mountain and had the chapel, which was consecrated in 1544, altered and enlarged. On the door of the fort, which together with the drawbridge has been conserved, can still be seen the coat of arms of Francais I, three fleurs de lys and the salamander.
s4In 1853 a new church was built, but only after much discussion. Indeed, the Ministry of War had to befpersuaded to abandon the fort and accept that a cathedral be constructed in its place. The architect Esperandieu, also designer of the Major cathedral, built it in the same Roman Byzantine style. The basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde was consecrated on the 4th June 1864.
It has been given the popular name of "Bonne Mere" or "Good Mother" over the centuries by the pilgrims who sought its protection. This is the slightly unconventional but very significant name under which the local population continue to venerate their church. The building was crowned by the virgin and child's statue on the 21st June 1931 in the presence of 300,000 people. Whether Marseilles is approached from the sea or the land this immense statue dominates and seems to cast its protection over the city.
You can watch my 2 min 07 sec Video Marselles out of my Youtube channel.
The Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde is the most prominent structure of the entire Old Port area because it sits on a 530 foot spur of land. A chapel existed here before the church from 1214. The present church was erected in the 19C and was consecrated in 1864. It has a 148 ft tall tower with a gilded statue of the Virgin at its top. The walk up to the church and above the tower is a 12-15 degree climb. (We did it from the base of the church).
The Basilica towers above Marseille and offers excellent views of the city, the islands, and the sunset. It sits atop La Garde hill, the natural highest point in Marseille and a traditional lookout post. On top of the basilica sits a 60m (197ft) belfry topped by a gold statue of the Madonna, which the locals refer to as "la bonne mere" (good mother). Construction of the basilica began in 1853 and completed in 1864. The Basilica can be reached by a long staircase or by road, depending on which side you're approaching from. It's nice to check out the inside, but the highlight of the basilica is the beautiful panoramic views.
Hours: summer 7am-8pm; off-season 7am-7pm
Directions: Map of Marseille
The Basilique Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde (Our Lady of the Guard, also known as la Bonne Mère (the Good Mother) is over a hill that was used as an observation point or guard post. In the south of Marseille, it is seen from almost any part of the city. It was built between 1.853 and 1.864 in neo-Byzantine style on the site of a 13th-century chapel.
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Notre-Dame de la Garde is the most famous church of Marseille. It dominates Marseille and "La Bonne Mère", as all people in Marseille calls it, is simply beautiful. Notre-Dame de la Garde protects the town and its inhabitants. Especially the fishermen. Inside you'll see lot of small boats and paintings about ships that Notre Dame supposly protected of sinking. Tought, it's not a really old church (mid XIXth century), it seems to allways have been there.
This church has a human size and is the favoite of all visitors.
I was surprise to learn about the size of the statue on the top of the church : not less tha 11 m !
the view from there is also incredible : the islands of If and Frioul, the city with the old harbour. A quiet place that you have to discover. Do it by feet ! It's a sport adventure as the streets are sloping !