Panoramic view from "la Bonne mère"

Nicknamed la Bonne Mère (the Good Mother) by the people of Marseille, Notre-Dame de la Garde is one of the city's emblems. Towering 160 metres above the city, the golden statue of the Virgin and Child seems to watch over the city with its protective eye. As far back as the 15th century, Notre-Dame de la Garde was considered the guardian of sailors and fishermen. Today, many people still come to thank the Virgin: sailors, firemen, veterans and, of course, OM players and supporters! It's also the most visited monument in Marseille, despite the many steps you have to climb to reach it... There is a car park, but it fills up quickly! You go there to pay your respects or to stroll around the esplanade and enjoy the 360° view over the whole city, with the Mediterranean as a backdrop.

Notre-Dame de la Garde in Marseille.

- © saiko3p / Shutterstock
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The history of Notre-Dame de la Garde

In 1214, a priest from Marseilles set about building an oratory dedicated to Mary, a simple little chapel at the top of a hill in the city of Marseille. Over time, more and more faithful and pilgrims came to the site, and the building had to be enlarged in the 15th century to accommodate them. In the 16th century, King François I ordered the construction of a fort - the remains of which can still be seen today - on the Garde hill to strengthen Marseille's defences.

Notre-Dame de la Garde watches over Marseille.

- © Zyankarlo / Shutterstock

The chapel as we know it today was designed in the 19th century by the architect Espérandieu, who was also responsible for the Cathedral de la Major. The original chapel was demolished and it was Eugène de Mazenod, the bishop of Marseille, who laid the foundation stone for the Basilica in 1853. Eleven years later, Notre-Dame de la Garde was consecrated.

Why visit Notre-Dame de la Garde?

Anyone visiting Marseille for the first time will be astonished by the original and highly distinctive architecture of Notre-Dame de la Garde. Its Romanesque-Byzantine style comes as a major visual shock to anyone unfamiliar with it: in the 19th century, the basilica was even compared to a locomotive.

The interior of Notre-Dame de la Garde.

- © Curioso.Photography / Shutterstock

The entrance to the basilica is just as striking as its exterior façade. The transition from the bright light of the esplanade to the semi-darkness of the interior is dazzling. Once the eyes are adjusted to the darkness, visitors are struck by an explosion of mosaics and polychromy. Just a few minutes' observation is enough to realise the amount of work required to create these complex and magnificent assemblages. The statuary, too, is quite remarkable. Naïve art is very much in evidence, illustrated by the many ex-votos, the oldest of which dates back to 1756.

Notre-Dame de la Garde offers a breathtaking view over the whole of Marseille.

- © Alexey Fedorenko / Shutterstock

As well as visiting the Basilica and the sacred nature of the site, a walk to Notre-Dame de la Garde offers a breath of fresh air, away from the crowds that fill the streets of Marseille. On the esplanade, the sound of the wind drowns out the hustle and bustle of the city and you can take in the breathtaking views over Marseille and the Mediterranean Sea.

Until the 1990s, visitors could still climb the staircase inside the statue of the Virgin Mary up to its head and admire the landscape directly through the eyes of the Good Mother: a memorable experience! Unfortunately, this is no longer possible, but the panorama from the Basilica square is still breathtaking.

Our favourite hotel with a view of Notre-Dame de la Garde

3-star Hôtel Belle-Vue Vieux-Port Marseille
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3-star Hôtel Belle-Vue Vieux-Port

This 3-star hotel boasts one of the best views of Notre-Dame de la Garde and the Old Port!
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£168 / night
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Practical information for Notre-Dame de la Garde

Perched on a hill overlooking the entire city, Notre-Dame de la Garde is a must-see on any trip to Marseille, attracting millions of visitors every year! Allow around an hour to explore the basilica and enjoy the unique view of the city and the Mediterranean from its esplanade.

Our favourite hotel with a view of Notre-Dame de la Garde :

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

Four free car parks are available to visitors, with around 150 spaces, but these fill up very quickly. During the high season, it's best to take public transport, with bus no. 60.

Marseille's little tourist train also serves the basilica, so you can combine business with pleasure! Of course, you can also get to Notre-Dame de la Garde on foot, via the streets that climb the hill or the various paths in the pine forest, and follow in the footsteps of the pilgrims of old.

Marseille's little train to Notre-Dame de la Garde.

- © okimo / Shutterstock

⏰ Opening hours of Notre-Dame de la Garde

Notre-Dame de la Garde is open every day from 7am to 6pm. Please note that all vehicles must leave the car park before 6.15pm!

👛 Prices for Notre-Dame de la Garde

Access to the sanctuary, buildings and terraces of Notre-Dame de la Garde is free. Offerings are of course welcome.

A few tips for your visit

  • "Decent and respectful" clothing is required in the sanctuaries and on the esplanades.
  • Notre-Dame de la Garde also has a small museum tracing its history from its construction to the present day.
  • Catering facilities are available on site.
  • Both the exterior and interior of Notre-Dame de la Garde are accessible to people with reduced mobility.
by Editorial Team
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