Notre-Dame de la Garde
The Garde hill (154 m) has always been an observation post.
Tradition has it, but there is no proof, that the look-out post exists since prehistorical times and more probably since the Roman era. In the 15th century decree of Charles II d'Anjou enumerates the Garde hill in the lists of relays. This look-out system is improved over the centuries and this function continues on the hill until 1978.
To protect Marseille from the armies of Charles the Fifth, led by the Constable of Bourbon, François the 1st has a fort built in 1524 on the top of the hill, which, together with the Châteay d'If, forms a maritime defense which serves as a foundaion for the present basilisa and find above the north porch the signature of the King l a salamander.
But the Garde hill acquires all its meaning as a sacred as well as an urban symbol with the construction of the basilica in 1853. From then on, the silhouette of the building becomes inseparable from the image of Marseille. However, several churches have preceded its construction. The first one was in 1241; when a hermit, master Pierre, received the authorization to build on this site which belonged to the Abbey of Saint Victor. From the 16th century onwards the church is gradually transformed into a center of religious devotion of the sailors. From this period date the first ex-votos which they deposit here.
Since then the Garde hill has a triple function: look-out post, fortification and place of worship and pilgrimage. In thhe iddle of the 19th century, the sanctuary proves to be too small for the numeroux pilgrims who visit it. Monseigneur de Mazenod decides to buil a large basilica on this site. The foundation stone is laid on 11 september 1853, the building is entrusted to the architect Espérandieu and the consecration takes place on 5 june 1864.
In a Romanesque-byzantine style with domes, multicoloured stone, gold and mosaics, the basilica fits in perfectly in the programme of the large constructions undertaken in Marseille under Napoléon III.
The edifice consists of two parts: a lower cherch, a vaulted crypt which houses in particular a multi-coloured crucifix dating from the 16th century church and a "mater dolorosa" of marble of Carpeaux ; and an upper church, the sanctuary, dedicated to the Virgin (name day and pilgrimage on 15 August) where mosaics with a gold background and muli-coloured marbles abound, giving it the appearance o a reliquary. Of particular interest are the bronze doors and the high altar designed by Revoil, Virgin in silver by Chanuel, an Annunciation low relief in multi-coloured glazed earthenware, a Florentine work of the 16th cebtury.
The presence of numerous ex-votos exhibed on the walls, hung between the supports of the nave, are a true collection of naïve art, a charming chronicle of the community of Marseille, eloquent witnesses of popular faith, dedicated to "la bonne mère", the name given to her by all the marseillais, wathever their religion. The belfry supports a monumental statue of the virgin created by the sculptor Lequesne. It was executed in bronze, gilded with gold leaf, by the Christofle workshops and installed in september 1870.
From the esplanade, in front of the sanctuary, there is a most impressive view of Marseille and its site.
Between 2001 and 2007, the part outside and the decor inside the church have been restored.