Marseille’s iconic figure, Notre-Dame de la Garde or “La Bonne Mère” watches over sailors, fishermen and the entire city. Visit Notre-Dame and enjoy the views from the top of the hill during your stay in Marseille.
Garde Hill (154m) has always been an observation post. A ruling by Charles II d’Anjou listed Garde Hill as a post house in the 15th century. This surveillance system improved over the years and the hill retained this role until 1978. To protect Marseille from Charles V’s armies led by the Duke of Bourbon, King François I built a fort in 1524 which, alongside Château d’If, made up the naval defence which the city lacked. You can still see the fort acting as a foundation for the current basilica and the King’s emblem above the northern entrance: the Salamander.
There were several chapels here before it was built. Garde Hill thus has three roles: a surveillance post, a military structure and a cult and pilgrimage site.
The sanctuary had become too small for the number of pilgrims visiting it by the mid-19th century so Monseigneur de Mazenod decided to build the great Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica. The first stone was laid on September 11th 1853, work was awarded to the architect Henry Espérandieu and it was consecrated on June 5th 1864.
Its Roman-Byzantine style (domes, multi-coloured stones, gold, mosaic) perfectly matches the major building projects taken on in Marseille under Napoleon III. The building is in two parts; a vaulted low church with a crypt and a high church, the sanctuary devoted to the Virgin Mary (festival and pilgrimage on August 15th). The many votives displayed on the wall reflect the popular faith.
There’s a large statue of the Virgin Mary on the bell tower. It was made by the sculptor Lequesne in bronze with gold leaf in the Christofle studios in Paris and put in place in September 1870.