Notre Dame de la Garde
If it were necessary to present Notre Dame de la Garde in a few words, it would be: more than 800 years of pilgrimage, 157 metres high, a breathtaking view of the entire Phocaean city and the symbol of an entire city.
The "Bonne Mère" history
The one known as "La Bonne Mère" has lived three lives. First built in 1214 - at the time it was a small chapel - it was rebuilt in the 15th century before being destroyed again in 1853, to make way for a larger basilica. The objective is then to have a place large enough to accommodate the pilgrims who are becoming more and more numerous since the appearance of cholera. Inside, the materials used are at the height of its splendour: white marble from Carrara and red marble from Brignoles alongside Byzantine style mosaics.
Under the basilica, the crypt was dug directly into the rock. It was completed before the basilica. The difference in style between the crypt and the basilica is quite striking: on the one hand the basilica with its very rich and golden decoration, on the other hand the crypt and its very sober decoration, without paintings or ornaments.
The Basilica in figures
This monument of Marseille is located on the highest hill near the Old Port, at an altitude of 150 meters. The bell tower of Notre Dame de la Garde reaches a height of 41 metres. The golden statue of Mary dominating the basilica is 11.20 metres long and weighs nearly 9,796 kg! It was made by the Christofle company and needs to be gilded with 500 grams of gold every quarter century.
Its construction required more than 40 years of work. Inside, the dimensions became more modest: the nave was 32.7 metres long and 14 metres wide. It is decorated with side chapels, each measuring 3.8 metres by 5.4 metres.
The Basilica of Marseille: a strategic military and religious point
In 1516, Francis I went to Marseille and joined his mother and wife in the sanctuary of Notre Dame de la Garde. He realizes the city's weak point: it has no means of protection in the event of a maritime attack. Aware of the strategic location of Guard Hill, he decided to build a fort and a military base there. He also ordered the construction of a fort on the island of If, the current Château d'If. Even today, the remains of this fort are still visible. And when you lean a little closer, you can even notice the coat of arms of Francis I: the famous salamander! Today, the Fort has been transformed and has given way to the gift shop, parking and a new sacristy.
Contrary to what visitors might think, Notre Dame de la Garde is not a cathedral but a basilica. This Byzantine inspired masterpiece was designed by the architect Henry Espérandieu. Inside, a Romano-Byzantine style with stones decorated with mosaics dominates.
At its summit, reaching a height of more than 150 metres, stands a magnificent statue of Mary, protector of the city and its sailors. Many ex-votos came to testify to the attachment of the people of Marseilles and the people of the sea.
Notre Dame de la Garde is getting a makeover
In 2001, after an in-depth study of the work to be carried out, the architect Xavier David launched the start of the restoration work. Long and hard work that lasted...seven years!
Outside, the Golfalina - the green stone used for the basilica - has been damaged by pollution. Damaged stones are then replaced by other, pollution-resistant stones. Inside, the mosaics have been altered over the years. Their restoration was therefore entrusted to a native mosaicist from Marseille, Michel Patrizio.
Visit "La Bonne Mère"
Since June 18, 2013, Notre Dame de la Garde has had its own museum. A place that traces the history of this place, from its birth to today.
An emblematic figure of the city, the basilica attracts millions of visitors every year, as motivated by its visit and its place in the history of Marseille as by the extraordinary panorama it offers over the entire Phocaean city.
If today, the view from the summit remains breathtaking, there was a time when the experience was even more memorable. About thirty years ago, visitors could take a staircase inside the statue of the Virgin Mary, which led them to her head. And so it was through the eyes of the statue that visitors could admire the city.
To enjoy the view and take a breath of fresh air, nothing beats going there by the many paths that lead to the foot of the hill. Be careful, the climb is not easy and the point of view of "La Bonne Mère" must be earned... or paid for. For those who wish, the Notre Dame de la Garde basilica is accessible by bus (line 60) or by the small train of Marseille which will delight young and old alike.
A Marseille Tourisme favorite
Beyond the sacred nature of this place for the people of Marseilles, Notre Dame de la Garde offers an exceptional break from the noise and the crowds. Whether it is a day off or a weekend, this walk allows you to recharge your batteries with oxygen and positive waves! And the incredible view it offers is really worth the trip!