|Notre-Dame de la Garde, Marseille|
|A beautiful church, high on a hill, with wonderful views, but watch out for pickpockets!|
Considered the spiritual symbol of Marseille, the Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde is well worth a visit. Recently renovated, it is beautiful, both inside and out.
The present church, built in the 19th century, is in a Romano-Byzantine style. The exterior is striking for its stripes of colored marble, and for the large gold statue of the Virgin and Child that stands atop its tower. The statue is 9.7 meters (37 feet) high and weighs over 9 tons. It is one of five statues of the Virgin in the church, including a silver one on the main altar (a copy of which is in the crypt, near the candles).
Inside the Church
The interior is lushy decorated, with beautiful mosaics and red and white striped marble. The mosaics and some of the other decorations acknowledge the importance of the sea, and ships play major roles.
Notre-Dame's location, high on a hill, provides splendid views of Marseille and of islands in the Mediterranean, most notably the small island that is home to the Château d'If. The parvis (area in front of the church) and steps up provide many opportunities to enjoy these wonderful views.
How to Go There
Beware of Pickpockets!
From the Vieux Port area, you can take Bus 60 up the winding roads to near the Basilica, but NOTE! Bus 60 is a favorite with pickpockets! They know that lots of tourists use the bus, so they lurk at the Vieux Port bus stops, looking at foreigners' pockets and handbags. On the ride up the twisting road to the church, standees must hold on with both hands. The thieves create a diversion—a commotion of shouting, for example—and in that moment your valuables disappear. You will feel nothing!
If you are able to take a seat on the bus you are relatively safe, but if you are standing for the ride, secure your valuables, preferably in a neck pouch under your clothing.
A Bit of History
Although the current church is from the 19th century, there has been a chapel dedicated to Notre-Dame since early in the 13th century. The hill was already known as La Garde, so the chapel took its name from that.
Because of its strategic location, François I chose La Garde as the site of a fort in the 16th century, so the chapel was within the fort. During World War II, the site was occupied by both the French and the German, and its taking on August 25, 1944, marked the liberation of Marseille.
It is also interesting to visit the Cathédrale de la Major, near Marseille's Panier district. Built at about the same time as Notre-Dame de la Garde, the cathedral shares some similarity of architecture but differs in many ways in its decor.