Notre-Dame de la Garde

Marseille, France

Notre-Dame de la Garde, known to local citizens as la Bonne Mère, is a Catholic basilica in Marseille, and the city's best-known symbol.  It was built on the foundations of an ancient fort at the highest natural point in Marseille, a 149 m limestone outcropping on the south side of the Old Port of Marseille.

Construction of the basilica began in 1853 and lasted for over forty years. It was originally an enlargement of a medieval chapel but was transformed into a new structure at the request of Father Bernard, the chaplain. The plans were made and developed by the architect Henri-Jacques Espérandieu. It was consecrated while still unfinished on 5 June 1864. The basilica consists of a lower church or crypt in the Romanesque style, carved from the rock, and an upper church of Neo-Byzantine style decorated with mosaics. A square 41 m bell tower topped by a 12.5 m belfry supports a monumental 11.2 m statue of the Madonna and Child, made of copper gilded with gold leaf.


The exterior of the building features layered stonework in contrasting colours: white Calissane limestone alternates with green sandstone from Golfolina near Florence. Marble and pictorial mosaics in various colours decorate the upper church. A 35 m double staircase leads to a drawbridge, granting access to the crypt and, via another set of stairs, to the church's main entrance.


The entrance hall under the bell tower features marble statues of Bishop Eugène de Mazenod and Pope Pius IX, both carved by Joseph-Marius Ramus. Staircases on both sides of the entrance lead to the church above.

The Romanesque crypt is composed of a nave with low barrel vaults, bordered by six side chapels corresponding exactly to those of the upper church. Unlike the upper church, the crypt is dim and somber. The side chapels contain plaques with the names of various donors. The side altars are devoted to saints Philomena, Andrew, Rose, Henry, Louis and Benedict Labre.

The main altar was built of Golfolina stone with columns of Spanish marble. Behind the altar is a statue of the Madonna holding a bouquet, the Vierge au Bouquet. Joseph-Elie Escaramagne obtained this statue for the original chapel in 1804. At first the Madonna held a sceptre, but due to the sceptre's poor condition, it was replaced by flowers. Two staircases flanking the main altar lead to the sacristy buildings and the choir above, but they are off-limits to the public.

The nave's interior is 32.7 m long and 14 m wide. The interior is decorated with 1,200 m2 of mosaics as well as alternating red and white marble columns and pilasters. The mosaics were created between 1886 and 1892 by the Mora company from Nimes.



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Founded: 1853-1897
Category: Religious sites in France


4.7/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

AeroBuz (2 years ago)
A unique place, the very symbol of Marseille, which dominates from above with its colossal statue of the Madonna and child, which everyone here calls the Good Mother. Located on the top of the highest hill in Marseille, from its terraces you can enjoy the view of a unique 360 ​​° panorama over the city, the islands of the gulf and the mountains behind. To get to the basilica you have to go up a scenic staircase. The interior has a single nave, on the sides several chapels whose walls hang countless "ex voto" and curious objects. A must see when visiting Marseille.
Caroline Findlay (2 years ago)
Absolutely stunning basilica - and a must-see in Marseille. I first visited on the Saturday, but because of high winds the entrance to the basilica was closed. I was told I could enter via the crypt, but there was a mass happening and nobody was allowed to enter either the crypt or the basilica. Luckily I was able to return on Monday (thought I’d give Sunday a miss as there was only a half hour window to visit at 9am due to masses being held throughout the day). I’m so glad I had the time to come back, as the basilica is absolutely stunning. The views from outside are pretty gorgeous too. Entrance is free, but I’d recommend paying 1€ for the pamphlet at reception - which points out some interesting facts and items to view. Also, the walk up is hard going - even for the fittest of walkers. I’ve climbed Ben Nevis, so I know what I’m talking about! If the weather is cool then go for it, but when it’s hot…no thanks! You can get the No.60 bus from Vieux-Port (I’d recommend getting on there as the bus does get packed pretty quickly). The journey takes around 10-15 minutes by bus and drops you off directly outside the basilica. It costs 2€, and if by chance you can’t get in because of high winds (or mass) it covers the cost of the trip back down - as long as it’s within an hour of purchase.
Michael's Vida (2 years ago)
Absolutely BEAUTIFUL. Its a quite the steep journey however it is worth it once you reach the top. I can not describe just how beautiful and stunning it is when you are there. The pictures do not grasp the amount of beauty. Highly recommend this. If I had one place to visit in Marseille I would pick the top of this church. You can see everything from there. It looks like Greece :D
Emily Anderson (2 years ago)
We were staying on the other side of the marina and decided to take a day trip. The hills and stairs are no joke in near 100 degree weather. I got sunburned and we stopped for a quick cafe when we made it up the first round of hill. The walk/hike was WELL worth it the basilique is beautiful as are the views... I highly recommend the trek if you are up for it... I believe there is also a bus that runs every 20 minutes...
NITENDRA SINGH (2 years ago)
It is a place where one can find peace in midst of Marseille crowd. A place to stay calm after roaming around the city. The view of the city from here is just fantastic. To reach here, I’d suggest to have a walk from vieux port. It’ll be bit of a hiking like and then stairs however it worth because as one climbs up, the view on their back keeps growing into something superb. Though, there are buses and touristic train available to reach there. You can also take your own car. There’s a parking for them. The sunset view is worth viewing from here.
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