Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica, in Marseille, Bouches-du-Rhône, France, seen from the Vieux port (old harbour)
Notre-Dame de la Garde (literally Our Lady of the Guard), is a basilica in Marseille, France. This ornate Neo-Byzantine church is situated at the highest natural point in Marseille, a 162 m (532 ft) limestone outcrop on the south side of the Old Port. As well as being a major local landmark, it is the site of a popular annual pilgrimage every Assumption Day (August 15). Local inhabitants commonly refer to it as la bonne mère (“the good mother”).
A minor basilica of the Catholic church, it is situated on a limestone peak of 149m (490 feet), on the walls and foundations of an old fort. Built by architect Henri-Jacques Espérandieu in the Neo-Byzantine style, the basilica was consecrated on 5 June 1864. It replaced a church of the same name built in 1214 and reconstructed in the 15th century. The basilica was built on the foundations of a 16th-century fort constructed by Francis I of France to resist the 1536 siege of the city by the Emperor Charles V. The basilica is made up of two parts: a lower church, or crypt, dug out of the rock and in the Romanesque style, and an upper church of Neo-Byzantine style decorated with mosaics. A square bell-tower of 41m (135 feet) is surmounted by a belfry of 12.5m (42 feet), which itself supports a monumental, 11.2m (27 feet) tall statue of the Madonna and Child made of copper gilded with gold leaf.
The stone used for the construction of the basilica, in particular the green limestone originating in the area surrounding Florence, was discovered to be sensitive to atmospheric corrosion. An extensive restoration took place from 2001 to 2008. This included work on the mosaics, damaged by candle smoke, and also by the impact of bullets during the Liberation of France at the end of World War II.
In Marseilles, Notre-Dame de la Garde is traditionally regarded by the population as the guardian and the protectress of the city.