Notre Dame de la Garde
From the top of its hillthe famous basilicawatches over the people of Marseille

‘Notre-Dame de la Garde’ basilica

Emblem of the city of Marseille, Notre-Dame watches over sailors, fishermen, and the people of Marseille. While visiting the Phocaean city, pay a visit to “la Bonne Mère” (the Good Mother), as it is called in Marseille, and from the top of the hill, you will be able to contemplate the breathtaking panorama. The basilica can be seen from every corner of the city and faces the Mediterranean sea from above.

Because of its external and internal architectural beauty, and magnificent 360 degrees view all over the city, the basilica is the most visited monument of the city of Marseille. You can reach it by walk or onboard the little touristic train, from which you will be able to enjoy the ride without having to hike up the hill! Do not miss this crucial monument of Marseille.

History of the hill of “Garde”

The hill of “Garde” (154 m) has always been an observation point. At its highest point at 154 meters, it offers a 360 degrees view of the city, the islands, and the sea. In the 15th century, a ruling from Charles II of Naples included it in the way station list. This lookout system improved with centuries and the hill kept a monitoring role until 1978.

Francis I of France ordered the building of a fort in 1524 to protect Marseille from the armies of Charles V led by the Constable of Bourbon, and together with the ‘Château d’If’ (If Castle), they constituted a maritime defense which was lacking in the city. Nowadays, the remains of the fort which were used as the basis for the actual basilica can still be seen, and we can guess the King’s emblem above the northern entrance porch: the salamander.

1853, the first stone was laid

In 1214, a priest named Pierre built a small chapel and a sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin Mary on-site and established the religious calling of the location. Many chapels succeeded one another in the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance until the actual basilica was built. The hill of the ‘Garde’ had three purposes: a look-out post, a military building, and a place of worship and pilgrimage.

In the middle of the 19th century, the sanctuary turned out to be too small for the many pilgrims visiting. Monseigneur de Mazenod decided to build a big basilica called Notre-Dame de la Garde. The first stone was laid on the 11th of September 1853. The architect Henry Espérandieu was entrusted with the work and the consecration was celebrated on the 5th of June 1864. The basilica is made up of 3 bells, including an 8-tonne bourdon named “Marie-Joséphine”.

The city took a different turn during this time and launched the construction of prestigious monuments such as the ‘Palais de la Bourse’ (Chamber of Commerce and Industry) and the Préfecture (administrative center).

If you’re a history lover, you can visit the museum of Notre-Dame de la Garde, located within the basilica. You’ll discover the entire history of the hill of La Garde, the basilica and even the city of Marseille. With its two permanent exhibitions spread over two floors, immerse yourself in the 2,000 documents, photos and objects, some of which date back to the early days of the basilica.

The ‘Bonne Mère’ (Good Mother) and popular beliefs

The familiar shape of the basilica can be recognised by the people of Marseille from many locations in the city, from the ‘Vieux-Port’ to the islands of Frioul, from the Mucem museum to the tower of the fort Saint Jean to the hills of Pagnol, the famous local writer.

The basilica was built based on a Roman-Byzantine style (with domes, stones polychromy, golds, mosaics) according to the Big Constructions Plan in Marseille undertaken under Napoléon III. The building is made of two parts:

  • A lower church with an arched vault
  • A higher church, the sanctuary, consecrated to the Virgin Mary (celebrated with a Pilgrimmage on the 15 August)

Inside the building, the many ex-votos exposed on the walls are a testimony to popular beliefs, reaching far beyond the limits of the Phocaean city. People were coming from the whole of the ‘Bouches-du-Rhône’ and Provence to light up an altar candle and ask a favour, or simply to be revitalised by coming a little closer to Heaven.

Did you know?

The Virgin Mary, 11.20 metres high, looks towards the sea, and not towards her child, and introduces him to the world. As soon as someone arrives either from the North, the South, or from the sea, they can spot Notre-Dame de la Garde.

How do I get to Notre-Dame de la Garde?

There are several options for visiting the famous basilica and taking in the incredible views:

  • From the Vieux-Port, enjoy a splendid 45-minute walk (be careful, it’s uphill!)
  • Take the number 60 bus from the Mucem, the Quai du Port, the Quai des Belges or the Cours Jean Ballard. This bus takes you directly below the basilica’s stairs, and all you have to do is climb the steps to enjoy the panoramic view over the whole of Marseille and discover one of the city’s most emblematic landmarks.
  • Opt for the Petit Train de Marseille and its route no. 1 departing from the Old Port. On the way to Notre-Dame de la Garde, you’ll discover many of the city’s must-see sites and monuments, including Fort Saint-Jean and Fort Saint-Nicolas, the Palais du Pharo, Saint-Victor Abbey and many others. To round off the journey in style, the train will take you up to the top of the hill and take you straight to the Basilica. If you want more freedom on your journey, hop on the Colorbüsand its Hop-On Hop-Off system, allowing you to explore the city’s points of interest for as long as you like, with a bus returning every 30 minutes.
  • Another unconventional option is Marseille’s Tuk Tuk! Climb aboard this atypical three-wheeled taxi, set off from the Old Port and enjoy a guided tour of places like Saint-Victor Abbey, Corniche Kennedy, the Auffes valley and Roucas-Blanc. Admire the view and the basilica during a 20-minute stopover on the heights of Notre-Dame de la Garde.
  • Take your car or a taxi to park in the car park at the foot of Notre-Dame de la Garde (beware, it fills up very quickly in summer!).

Things to know before you visit

Please note! Notre-Dame de la Garde is not just another place of worship, it is also a place of pilgrimage. All visitors are therefore asked to respect the silence of the prayer areas.

In addition, the Basilica and its crypt are not accessible during mass or celebrationtimes (you can find details of these times here).

Visitors are also required to wear decent clothing that respects the sanctuary, and men are asked to keep their heads uncovered.

If you are a disabled person, you will need to use a motorised vehicle to access the lift up to the Basilica.

Animals are not allowed on the entire Basilica site, even if they are held in the arms or outside the sanctuary.

Anecdotes that you will want to know

  • The Virgin is hollow, and there is a staircase leading up to the eyes of the statue (closed to the public).
  • From 1892 to 1967, there was a funicular railway that ran from the rue Jules Moulet to the top of the hill 80 metres above.
  • Since 2023, the Massilia motorbike club has organised a bikers’ blessing at the basilica on Whit Monday. The bikers meet at the Hôtel de Ville and then ride up to the Bonne Mère. Every year, this blessing attracts more and more bikers!

Practical Information

Notre-Dame de la Garde is open every day of the year.
From 7 am to 6 pm

Car parks close at 6.15 pm

By bus (route 60) RTM
Onboard the little touristic train (route  ”Notre-Dame de la Garde “)
By car (beware of the car park closing time at 5.30 pm)
By bike (Le Velo)
By foot (around 20 minutes from ‘Vieux-Port’)

Access strongly discouraged to buses over 13 m.

Frequently asked questions

  • Is it possible to eat at Notre-Dame de la Garde?

    Yes! Since February and until October 2023, the Basilica has reopened its Sanctuary restaurant, with an inclusive, committed restaurant concept, and also to perpetuate the conviviality and tradition of hospitality that is so deeply rooted in the Basilica.

    You can also enjoy quality street food or just a drink at the temporary refreshment bar Le Bon Air, set up at the foot of Notre-Dame de la Garde and open until September 2023 from 4pm to 10pm.

  • Can we buy a souvenir of our visit to Notre-Dame de la Garde?

    There is a shop next to the basilica, on the upper esplanade. Here you can buy medals, rosaries, religious books and postcards to remember your visit to the Basilica, or to give to a loved one.

    You can also buy a souvenir medal from one of the vending machines next to the lift, and there is also a cash machine if you need change.

  • Once we've finished our visit, are there any other things to do around Notre-Dame de la Garde?

    Of course you can! Once you’ve finished visiting the Basilica, there are a number of activities you can enjoy, such as a walk to the Roucas Blanc district to take in the sea views from the Corniche Kennedy and a dip in the Prophète beach, or head for the city centre with this walk through the traviolles de Vauban, ending at the Place Castellane and its Cantini fountain.

    Even more unusual, discover Marseille in a fun and entertaining way, with the track game around Notre-Dame de la Garde! Armed with your game booklet, you’ll have to guess the route through the various enigmas. You’ll have to pay attention to everything around you!

    Your guide will be on hand to help you along the way. The fun aspect of this activity makes it particularly suitable for families.