Anyone visiting Marseilles for the first time is impressed by the original and very special architecture of Notre-Dame de la Garde. Its Romano-Byzantine style is quite a striking view when seen for the first time (in the 19th century the basilica was compared to the engine of a train).
The basilica entrance is just as remarkable as its outer façade. The passageway from the dazzling light of the esplanade to the semi-obscurity of the interior is stunning. Once your eyes have got used to the half-light, you will be struck by the explosion of mosaics and polychromic decor. Look closely for a few minutes, and you will see the extent of the work carried out by the craftsmen and their talent for creating these complex and beautiful assemblies.
The statuary is also quite remarkable. There are three 'Bonnes Mères', a Vierge (Virgin Mary) by Chanuel, another with a bouquet and a copy made of silver, which took the sculptor Chanuel six years to complete. There is also a life-size figure of a Provençal Christ dating back to the 16th Century.
Naive art is well represented, as illustrated by numerous ex-votos (objects offered in fulfilment of a vow). Most of the donations are made by seafarers who have come to thank the Virgin Mary for their escape from a shipwreck or another seaborne peril. The oldest of these ex-votos dates back to 1756.
Nowadays, people still flock to thank the Virgin Mary, including marine firefighters, ex-servicemen and, of course, the players and supporters of the Olympique de Marseille football team!
Opening hours: daily from 7:00am to 7:00pm in the winter and from 7:00am to 8:00pm in the summer. Night openings until 10:00pm from mid-June to mid-August.
Mass times: weekdays in the winter, 7:30am, 9:00am and 4:30pm (5:00pm in the summer).
Sunday and national holidays at 8:00am, 9:00am, 10:00am, 11:00am, 11:30am, 4:30pm in the winter (5:00pm in the ummer).
Sunday service at 3:30pm in the winter and 4:00pm in the summer.
Many still come here to thank the Virgin, from seamen to supporters of OM (Olympique de Marseille - the city's football club)© Fotosearch / GraphicObsession
Perched on a 12.5m tall tower, the 11.2m statue of the Virgin towers over the city.© Fotosearch / GraphicObsession
Notre Dame de la Garde's square bell tower is 41m tall.© Fotosearch / GraphicObsession
The 'Bonne Mère' watches over Marseille even during the night.© Fotosearch / GraphicObsession
With 1.5 million visitors per year, the basilica, a Mecca for pilgrims, is one of the must-see sights in Marseille.© Fotosearch / GraphicObsession