History of Notre-Dame de la Garde in 60 Seconds

Alex Ledsom

The Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde is a wonderful example of Neo-Byzantine architecture and the most recognisable of all buildings in Marseille. It looks down protectively over the entire city and is a must-see on any itinerary.

Brief History

The basilica sits at the highest natural peak in Marseille (called “La Garde“), which for centuries had been used as an important post for defending the city (along with the island fortress Château d’If). A church was built here in the 13th century and later, the basilica was built on the same site. It was completed in 1864 and the name “notre-dame” means “our lady”. There is a 10-metre-tall statue of the Virgin Mary on the top of the bell tower, who is said to watch over the entire city.

A Key Role in Local Religious Life

The site was a place of pilgrimage throughout the centuries and by the mid-19th century, there were too many visitors for the site to manage, which is one of the reasons why the basilica was built. Lots of people visit on Assumption Day (to commemorate the day when Mary’s body was taken into heaven) and the basilica is still used for daily church services, so bear this in mind when you visit. The engraved stones on the wall in the old Provençal dialect are people’s thanks to Mary for protecting them from cyclones, war, exam failure or health problems. The local beloved football team, Olympique de Marseille, left their shirts here in thanks after winning an important match. There’s a small museum inside that tells the story of the basilica’s history.

The Byzantine revival (called Neo-Byzantine) occurred in the late 19th century when buildings, like Notre-Dame, were built in the style of Roman architecture with complicated structures and lots of domes. Buildings in this style incorporated mosaics, multi-coloured stonework and ornate tiles, usually in gold. People also visit for its art; Notre-Dame contains murals depicting the safe passage of sailors as well as religious paintings.

Perfect For Instagram Moments

Notre-Dame de la Garde is the most visited place in Marseille and it’s not hard to see why – it has 360 panoramic views over the city. Locals head to her steps to watch the Bastille Day fireworks or simply to take a picnic in the evenings. Just be warned, it can be a bit of climb to get to her, so best to take the tourist train from the Old Port unless you’re feeling energetic. Take lots of water if you’re walking the steps in summer.

Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, Rue Fort du Sanctuaire, Marseille, France +33 (0)4 91 13 40 80

landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

Edit article