Walking Tour of Marseille's Old Town


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Welcome to our vibrant walking tour blog post, designed to take you on a journey through some of Marseille’s most popular and iconic landmarks. This tour is perfect for anyone eager to explore the city’s rich heritage and breathtaking architecture.

We’ll begin at the historic heart of the city, the Vieux Port (Old Port), a bustling harbor that has been the center of life in Marseille since ancient times. From here, you can watch the fishermen bring in their daily catch and soak in the lively atmosphere. Continuing our exploration, we’ll visit the grand Cathédrale de la Major (Marseille Cathedral), located near the port. This cathedral, with its striking domes and intricate façades, is a testament to Marseille’s status as a cultural crossroads. Our path will then lead us to the MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations), a stunning piece of contemporary architecture that bridges the gap between the oldest part of Marseille and the newest. It’s a cultural hotspot that explores the diverse histories of the Mediterranean region.

On the other side of the port we’ll ascend to the Palais du Pharo, an imperial residence turned public park, where you can enjoy lush gardens and stunning views of the sea. We’ll wrap up our tour with a visit to the majestic Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, affectionately known as “La Bonne Mère.” Perched on a limestone outcrop, this basilica offers panoramic views of Marseille and the Mediterranean Sea, and its opulent interior is just as impressive.

Join us as we explore these must-see landmarks of Marseille, each offering a unique glimpse into the city’s soul and story. This walking tour promises not just sights but an immersive experience into what makes Marseille a cherished destination.

Guided or Self Guided Tour? This guide will take you around all the main attractions, whoever if you are in a hurry or want a more personalised tour, you may want to consider taking a walking tour with a local guide. This is one of the most complete and best-rated city tours that covers the main, must-see attractions in about 3 hours.

Parking: If you are driving to Marseille and are planning the whole tour you could park at the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde. Otherwise I would suggest the fairly centrally located Parking Bourse.

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Vieux Port (Old Port), Marseille

Vieux Port Marseille
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Bybbisch94, Christian Gebhardt

Walk along the quay with the sea on your left and you will see the Église Saint-Ferréol les Augustins.

Flanked by the historic Panier (Old Town) on one side and the majestic Notre Dame de la Garde on the other, the Old Port, or Vieux Port, has been the vibrant center of Marseille for over 2,000 years. Today, it remains a beloved gathering place where locals and visitors alike come to stroll, dine, debate, fall in love, trade fish, enjoy music, sell sunglasses, and relish life’s moments. Moreover, the city center received a significant facelift in 2013 when Marseille was the focal point of the European Capital of Culture, further cementing the Old Port’s role as a communal hub.

Established in 600 BC by Greek settlers from Phocaea in Asia Minor, now Turkey, Marseille is France’s oldest city and still carries its ancient moniker, La Cité Phocéenne, with pride. The port evolved through Roman and medieval times and expanded under the direction of Louis XIV in 1666, who also initiated the construction of two fortresses at the harbor’s entrance and the development of the famous Canebière boulevard. Although the original structure was heavily damaged by Nazi bombings in 1944 and subsequently demolished post-World War II, discussions of rebuilding the bridge occasionally resurface, though no concrete plans have materialized. Today, the Old Port, with its shallow depth of just six meters, no longer supports commercial maritime traffic or the daily influx of large cruise ships, which now dock at the nearby Joliette port.

The Vieux Port now serves as the city’s largest marina, accommodating thousands of berths. Here, traditional fishing boats known as pointus compete for space with luxurious yachts, a few majestic tall ships, and various motor launches.

Location: Vieux Port, Rue Breteuil, Marseille, France
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Le Jardin des Vestiges

Jardin Des Vestiges Marseille
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Carl Ha

Walk to the back of Église Saint-Ferréol les Augustins, and turn left to reach Le Jardin des Vestiges and Marseille History Museum.

In 1967, during construction in central Marseille, archaeologists discovered several ancient ruins. These historical remnants, now integrated into a landscaped garden known as Le Jardin des Vestiges, are situated in the bustling heart of the contemporary city. Designed by the esteemed landscape architect Joël-Louis Martin, this garden is a part of the Museum of Marseille. The discovery was made while planning to build a shopping center, unveiling ruins of an ancient Greek port from the Roman era. In its prime, this port was a dynamic hub, extending further east, teeming with traders unloading their goods. Today, the wharves from this port, which date back to Roman times, are still visible and form a key feature of the garden.  Le Jardin des Vestiges stands as a striking juxtaposition of Marseille’s ancient past against the modern urban landscape that now surrounds it.

Location: Jardin des Vestiges, Rue Henri Barbusse, Marseille, France
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Marseille History Museum

Musée D’histoire De La Ville De Marseille
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Cover 2020

The Musée d’Histoire de Marseille, or Marseille History Museum, is dedicated to exploring the city’s rich historical tapestry, from its ancient origins to the 18th century. This local history and archaeology museum holds a comprehensive collection that vividly illustrates Marseille’s significant role in French history over the millennia.

Visitors to the museum can explore a wide range of displays, including artifacts, ephemera, photographs, and documents that cover the extensive timeline of the region. From its earliest settlers, through the era of Viking explorers, to Roman conquests and beyond, the museum provides an educational and engaging experience suitable for all ages.

The museum’s vast permanent exhibition features many items unearthed during archaeological excavations that began in the 1960s. Among the standout pieces is the hull of a second-century ship, which is one of the best-preserved of its kind globally. Additionally, visitors will find artifacts from medieval potter workshops and items related to the plague of 1720.

The exhibits also delve into the prehistory of the region, showcasing the lives of the Ligures and Phoaceans, as well as the ancient Greek and Roman ports that once thrived here. Further exhibits cover the spread of Christianity through the sixth century and the era of Louis XIV, providing a thorough and fascinating overview of Marseille’s historical journey.

Location: Musée d'histoire de la Ville de Marseille, Rue Henri Barbusse, Marseille, France | Hours: Daily 09:00 - 18:00 Closed Mondays | Price: Free
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Porte d'Aix

Marseille - Porte DAix
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Marianne Casamance

Turn right onto Rue Henri Barbusse and next right at Rue Neuve Saint-Martin and left onto the large Cr Belsunce. At the begining of Rue d’Aix you can see the impressive Porte d’Aix at the far end.

Porte d’Aix, also known as Porte Royale, is a triumphal arch located in Marseille, France, which serves as a historical marker for the city’s old entrance from the road leading to Aix-en-Provence. The arch’s design, by Michel-Robert Penchaud, draws inspiration from the grand triumphal arches of the Roman Empire. Originally conceived in 1784, the Porte d’Aix was intended to honor King Louis XVI and commemorate the Peace of Paris (1783), which concluded the American Revolutionary War. However, the project was halted and later resumed in 1823 following the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy, this time to celebrate French military successes during the Spanish Expedition, particularly the victory at the Battle of Trocadero on August 31, 1823. The arch was finally completed in 1839, embodying a broader theme of victory.

Location: Porte d'Aix, Place Jules Guesde, Marseille, France | Hours: 24 Hours | Price: Free
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La Vieille Charité

Chapelle Et Hospice De La Vieille Charite
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Charliemoon

After admiring Porte d’Aix from afar walk west along Rue Colbert. On your right you will pass the slightly neglected La Halle Puget, designed by Pierre Puget and erected in 1672, the Puget Hall housed fish merchants and butchers’ stalls. In the 19th century, it was walled up and transformed into a chapel, then into a Commissariat in the early 20th century. Abandoned in the 1980s, it threatened to collapse until finally restored. Go straight across at the roundabout and ascend the right Escalier “Le Panier”. “Le Panier” refers to a specific neighborhood in Marseille, known as the oldest quarter of the city. Keep to the right up Rue Saint-Antoine, then left and right again up Petit Puits.

Located in the vibrant Le Panier quarter of Marseille, the grand almshouse designed by Pierre Puget (1620–1694), a native of the area who ascended to the position of architect for Louis XIV, stands as a testament to his architectural and sculptural prowess. This beautiful structure features a neoclassical central chapel and an elegantly arcaded courtyard, embodying a sense of harmony and grace.

The origins of La Vieille Charité in Marseille trace back to a 1640 Royal Edict aimed at “locking up the poor and beggars.” Despite initial plans by the municipality to house this population, the project faced numerous delays. It wasn’t until 30 years later that Pierre Puget, a local and distinguished architect, devised the plans for what would become one of his most notable works. Construction, overseen by his son François Puget, spanned from 1671 to 1745.

For over a century, La Vieille Charité served as a shelter for the city’s beggars, until the French Revolution transformed it into a hospice. By 1905, it was repurposed by the Army, and in 1922, it provided social housing for those whose homes were destroyed. During World War II, in 1943, it housed families evacuated prior to the destruction of the Old Port by German forces.

The building was nearly abandoned by the early 20th century until Le Corbusier alerted the municipality about its deteriorating condition, prompting restoration efforts. In 1951, the chapel and hospice were designated as historic monuments, and comprehensive restoration began in 1961, continuing for nearly 25 years after all residents had been relocated.

Today, La Vieille Charité has been revitalized as a vibrant multi-purpose cultural center. Its tranquil atmosphere and stunning beauty make it a unique landmark in Marseille. The architectural style is emblematic of the 17th century, featuring the magnificent Baroque Puget Chapel with its distinctive ovoid shape. The front facade, in the Second Empire style, is adorned with motifs relating to charity. The structure’s unity of style is highlighted by the use of pink and white stone from the La Couronne quarry in northern Marseille. The building comprises four wings that open inward to face the chapel, connected by three levels of galleries, creating a harmonious and serene space that now hosts various cultural institutions.

Entry to the almshouse itself is free, which also gives access to the permanent collections of the Musée d’Archéologie Méditerranéenne and the Musée d’Arts Africains, Océaniens, et Améridiens.

Location: Centre de la Vieille Charité, Rue de la Charité, Marseille, France
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Cathédrale de la Major (Marseille Cathedral)

Marseille - Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Fred Romero

Head across the small Place de la Charité and continue down the Rue du Petit Puits, down the steps at the end and turn right and then left to get to the Cathedral.

Cathédrale La Major stands as one of the grandest cathedrals built in 19th-century Europe, located in the historic Le Panier district of Marseille. This majestic cathedral adopts a Romanesque-Byzantine style, reminiscent of Eastern churches, with its striped facade crafted from multi-colored stones and adorned with multiple ornate domes and cupolas. Overlooking Marseille’s bustling port, it has witnessed the comings and goings of ships from around the world for centuries.

Known affectionately by locals as ‘La Major,’ the site of the cathedral has a rich history, dating back to a Roman temple dedicated to the goddess Diana, followed by a 5th-century baptistry. After a Saracen attack in the 11th century, the church was rebuilt using pink stone from the La Couronne quarries, in a Romanesque style. Elements of this earlier structure are still visible in the cathedral’s choir and part of the nave.

The cornerstone of the current structure was laid by Napoleon III in 1852, symbolizing Marseille’s prosperity and prominence. Designed to accommodate up to 3,000 worshippers, Cathédrale La Major is constructed from lavish materials, including Italian marble, Tunisian onyx, porphyry, and local Cassis stone. Visitors enter through the southern end via red doors, which are intricately detailed with metal scrollwork. Above, Venetian mosaics enrich the arches, while the interior boasts extensive mosaics across the nave floor, a statue of Joan of Arc, and a marble depiction of Saint Veronica aiding Christ.

At the northern end, the cathedral features chapels radiating around the tomb of Saint Eugene de Mazenod, a former bishop of Marseille, and houses his relics, including a reliquary of his arms and skull. The Chapel of the Virgin displays a collection of paintings depicting saints and religious figures. Additionally, two meticulously crafted scale models of the cathedral provide a comprehensive view of its impressive architecture, allowing visitors to appreciate its scale and beauty fully.

Location: Marseille Cathedral, Place de la Major, Marseille, France | Hours: Daily 7 am to 6 pm
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Eglise Saint-Laurent (Saint-Laurent Church)

Marseille Eglise Saint-Laurent
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Zairon

Walk directly away from the Cathedral and slightly ascend Esp. de la Tourette.

The origins of Saint-Laurent Church in Marseille trace back to 870 AD, when Bishop Babon constructed a fortified wall to protect the city from invasions. Centuries later, as Marseille flourished, Saint-Laurent Church was erected using pink stones sourced from the Cap Couronne quarry, on a site previously occupied by an ancient pagan temple dedicated to the god Apollo. This marked the church’s beginning as the 4th parish of Marseille. Built in the Romanesque-Provençal style, its unadorned simplicity mirrors the austere elegance of the Cistercian abbeys known as the “Three Provençal Sisters”: Le Thoronet, Sénanque, and Silvacane. The church features three naves, each separated by large square pillars. By the 13th century, Saint-Laurent became the designated parish for Marseille’s fishermen. The 17th century saw the addition of the Sainte Catherine Chapel by the white penitents to accommodate the growing congregation, officially opening in 1604. In 1668, parts of the church facing the sea were demolished to facilitate the construction of Fort Saint Jean, leading to the reconstruction of the church’s bell tower. During the Great Plague of 1720, the Bishop of Marseille held a mass at the church to pray for the city’s protection. The French Revolution brought devastation, with the church’s gold and silver treasures melted down to mint coins, and its use as a military warehouse in 1794. It was eventually reopened for worship in 1801. World War II spared the church from total destruction, unlike much of the Old Port district, but it still suffered significant damage. Reconstruction efforts were gradual and only recently completed.

Location: Eglise Saint Laurent, Esplanade de la Tourette, Marseille, France
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MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations)

CC BY-SA 2.0 / Sébastien Bertrand

Cross the Passerelle Parvis-St Jean to get to Fort Saint-Jean and MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations).

Located at the forefront of the J4 promenade, the MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations) represents a landmark initiative by the French government to establish a major national museum outside of Paris. This museum consolidates the collections from the former museum of folk art and the museum of man, focusing on showcasing both the commonalities and unique traits of various European and Mediterranean civilizations and cultures.

The MuCEM features an innovative museography approach, incorporating a permanent reference exhibition alongside temporary exhibitions that explore significant societal issues. It also includes a forum and a cultural center that interact with other public facilities within the Cité de la Méditerranée.

In June 2002, an international architecture competition was initiated by the Minister of Culture, resulting in the selection of a design by the collaborative teams of Rudy Ricciotti and Roland Carta. The museum’s structure is notable for its parallelepipedic volume with a square footprint measuring 72 meters on each side, enveloped by a distinctive perforated concrete mesh inspired by marine rock.

The MuCEM complex consists of two main structures: the rehabilitated Fort Saint-Jean, which hosts temporary exhibitions, and a new building on the J4 esplanade dedicated to both permanent and temporary displays. These two buildings are connected by an elevated pedestrian walkway that stretches over the dock, providing a unique vantage point and linking the historical and contemporary elements of the museum.

Location: Mucem - Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean, Esplanade J4, Marseille, France | Hours: Daily 10 a.m. — 6 p.m. Closed Tuesdays | Price: €11.00 | Website
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Fort Saint-Jean

Marseille - Fort Saint-Jean
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Christophe.Finot

Fort Saint-Jean stands as a historic fortress in Marseille, France, providing breathtaking panoramic views of the bustling boats in the bay and the cityscape beyond. Constructed in 1660 by King Louis XIV at the entrance of the Old Port, Fort Saint-Jean has become one of the city’s most frequented monuments, rich with centuries of captivating history.

In 2013, two footbridges were added, enhancing access to the fortress. These bridges link Fort Saint-Jean with the historical district of Le Panier and the MuCEM (Museum of the Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean), seamlessly connecting the past and present. Visitors to Fort Saint-Jean can embark on a journey through time, exploring the fortress’s extensive heritage while enjoying its strategic views that have overseen Marseille’s evolution over the ages.

Location: Fort Saint-Jean, Promenade Louis Brauquier, Marseille, France | Hours: Daily 10 a.m. — 6 p.m. Closed Tuesdays | Price: €11.00 | Website
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Museum of the Roman Docks

Musée Des Docks Romains
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Robert Valette

Walk along the quayside cross over the road at the second zebra crossing and to the next street, Rue de la Loge. Turn right and left under the flats to get to Pl. Vivaux. The Museum of the Roman Docks is to the right on the building in front of you.

The Museum of Roman Docks in Marseille is a fascinating site that showcases the remains of one of the few Roman commercial warehouses known globally. Discovered in 1947 during the post-World War II reconstruction of areas destroyed by German occupiers, the site was preserved thanks to the efforts of historian and archaeologist Fernand Benoit. Officially opened to the public in 1963 and later renovated in 1987, the museum displays an impressive collection of 30 dolia—large ceramic containers from Roman times.

These dolia, used primarily for agricultural purposes, were integral to ancient Roman commerce, especially in wine and oil storage. Typically found in vineyards next to presses, these containers could stand approximately 1.70 meters in height and 1.60 meters in diameter, holding between 1,800 to 2,000 liters. They were partially buried in the ground to maintain a stable temperature, sealed with a similar material lid, and coated internally with resin to preserve the contents from temperature fluctuations, which was crucial for maintaining the quality of the wine.

The museum also offers a glimpse into the history of maritime trade, featuring exhibits along the walls that detail findings from underwater excavations of 20 shipwrecks in the Marseille harbor. These displays provide insight into the extensive trade networks and the rich commercial history that shaped the region. Visitors to the museum can explore both the remnants of medieval structures and the ancient Roman dolia, making it a unique and educational experience that bridges the city’s past and present.

Location: Musée des Docks romains de la Ville de Marseille, Place Vivaux, Marseille, France | Hours: Daily 09:00 - 18:00 Closed Mondays | Price: Free | Website
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Maison Diamantée

Maison Diamantée
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Guiguilacagouille

Continue along Pl. Vivaux past the square whic often has lovely olive trees in pots (Oliviers en pots). Maison Diamantée is on your left as you get to the large square.

The Diamond House, formerly known as the hotel of Saboulin Bollena, is a historically significant building located just behind the City Hall in Marseille. Its name derives from the distinctive diamond-shaped stones that adorn its facade. Together with the Hotel Cabree, it stands as one of the most well-preserved residences in the area today.

Constructed in the 15th century, the Diamond House was built on the former palace gardens of Provence by wealthy Spanish and Italian investors. Over the centuries, it has served as the home for some of Marseille’s most prominent families, including Pierre Sebolin de Bollena, who was the second sheriff of Marseille in 1685, followed by his nephew, Francois de Sabolin Bollena, who became the first sheriff of the city in 1702.

From 1967 until 2009, this building housed the Museum of Old Marseille, preserving and showcasing the city’s rich history. After 2009, its collections were incorporated into the Marseille History Museum. This museum offers a detailed portrayal of life in Marseille during the 18th and 19th centuries and features an impressive exhibit on the Plague of 1720, providing insights into one of the most challenging periods in the city’s history.

Location: Maison Diamantée (La), Rue de la Prison, Marseille, France
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Hotel de Ville (City Hall)

Marseille-Hotel De Ville
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Bjs

Head back to the quay ant tur left.

You can’t overlook the Town Hall as you stroll through the Old Port. The grand mayoral residence stands tall on the right bank, overlooking Notre-Dame de la Garde. Situated near the Panier district, it’s worth pausing to admire its magnificent architecture and rich history.

Location: Ville de Marseille, Place Villeneuve-Bargemon, Marseille, France | Hours: It can not be visited, except for official business.
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Fort Saint Nicolas & Fort d'Entrecasteaux

Fort Saint-Nicolas Marseille
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Ainars Brūvelis

The tour on the southside of the port is more spreadout and does have a bit of a climb to the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde. To continue you cross over the dock on the ligne du ferry which runs daily (07:30 – 20:30) and only costs €0.50 (free for RTM or CityPass subscription holders). Or you can either continue along the quay to end the tour where we started.

Crosing over the ferry head west, with the water on your right. Fort Saint-Nicolas will be on your right.

The fortress complex at the entrance to Marseille’s Vieux Port, comprising Fort d’Entrecasteaux and Fort Ganteaume, is a testament to the strategic military architecture of the 17th century under Louis XIV. Designed to maintain control over Marseille in the event of local insurrection, this fortification exemplifies the era’s military foresight and the evolving art of warfare.

The fort occupies a critical limestone spur, strategically positioned between the port, the Saint-Victor abbey, and the Pharo. Historically, it encapsulated the medieval Saint-Nicolas chapel, which was subsequently demolished. The construction, initiated in 1660 by the Chevalier de Clerville, incorporates a sophisticated double-enclosure system of ditches and bastions, specifically engineered to counteract the enhanced offensive capabilities introduced by fire artillery at the time.

This defensive structure was divided into two distinct tiers. The lower tier, known as Fort de Ganteaume, functioned historically as a farmyard with strategic views over the port. It was isolated following the construction of Boulevard Charles Livon in 1862, during the establishment of the nearby Imperial Residence, le Pharo. This lower portion remains under military jurisdiction.

The upper fort, Fort d’Entrecasteaux, features dual interlocking enclosures that adhere to a quadrangular plan optimized for the terrain’s steep escarpment. The construction showcases exemplary masonry with large blocks of pink La Couronne limestone, accentuated by bossed quoins and string courses that trace arabesques of counter-curves along the slopes, lending an air of serene power to the structure.

Currently, the upper fort has undergone extensive restoration and is now accessible to the public. It is managed by the Citadelle de Marseille, offering visitors a unique glimpse into the historical military architecture and the continuous evolution of defense strategies in response to advancements in warfare technology. This fort not only served as a bulwark but also chronicles the broader narrative of military engineering and its implications on urban development and regional control.

Location: Fort Saint-Nicolas, Montée du Souvenir Français, Marseille, France | Hours: Approx: Winter: Saturday/Sunday Summer: Wednesday - Sunday 12 p.m. - 10 p.m. See their website. | Price: €12 Booking Required | Website
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Palais du Pharo

Palais Du Pharo Et Vieux-Port
CC BY-SA 1.0 / Benoît Prieur

Walk up Bd Charles Livon, stop and admire to view from the small, Jardin Missak Manouchian dedicated to this resistance fighter of Armenian origin and his comrades, foreigners who died fighting for France. Parc Émile Duclaux and Palais du Pharo is on your right.

Intended as an imperial abode, the Palais du Pharo stands as a splendid Napoleonic edifice that merits exploration for both its architectural grandeur and its surrounding park.

While the Palace itself is not open for tours, it is surrounded by nearly six hectares of gardens named after Émile Duclaux. The Parc du Pharo presents a stunning view of the Vieux-Port and Marseille’s northern coastline, making it a popular spot for leisurely walks. These verdant areas attract families, walkers, and tourists, ranking among the city’s most delightful green spaces.

Location: Palais du Pharo, Boulevard Charles Livon, Marseille, France | Hours: The Pharo garden is open all year round to the public from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. | Price: Free
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Abbey of Saint-Victor

Abbaye Saint-Victor, Marseille France
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Philippe Alès

Walk down Av. Pasteur and left onto Av. de la Corse. Turn left down Rue du Commandant Lamy to the Abbey of Saint-Victor.

The Abbey of Saint-Victor stands as a premier attraction in Marseille, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in the city’s religious heritage. A visit to the Basilica and its crypts offers a spectacular view of the Vieux-Port (Old Port). Historically, the abbey’s tower has served as a significant landmark for the people of Marseille. Beyond the breathtaking vistas, the abbey is a treasure trove of Early Christian art, deeply entwined with the history of Marseille. Those passionate about culture and history will find great delight in exploring its crypts, chapels, and sarcophagi.

Location: Abbaye Saint-Victor, Place Saint-Victor, Marseille, France | Hours: Daily 09:00 - 18:00 | Price: €2 to visit crypts
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Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde

Notre Dame De La Garde, Marseille
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Ajay K

Head back past Av. de la Corse and walk up Rue d’Endoume for 700m. Yuo will see the steps on your left leading up to Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde.

The Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde is a striking 19th-century landmark visible throughout Marseille. It is built atop the remnants of a 12th-century chapel and a 16th-century fort, serving historically as both a sacred site and a strategic defensive position. Today, it remains a place where locals frequent to seek blessings for safe travels and health recoveries.

The basilica is renowned for its magnificent location which offers stunning panoramic views, attracting visitors as much for its visual appeal as for its richly decorated interior. It plays a central role in many of Marseille’s significant festivities, including being a prime spot for viewing Bastille Day fireworks. Atop the basilica, the golden statue of the Virgin Mary, affectionately known as La Bonne Mère, is said to watch over the city. Historically, Garde Hill, where the basilica stands, has served as a critical lookout point and a pilgrimage site for sailors praying for safe voyages. In the 16th century, King François I ordered the construction of a fort here to protect Marseille from potential Spanish invasions, around the same period the Château d’If was established.

The foundation stone of the current basilica was laid in 1853, incorporating the base of the former fort. Above the north door, the symbol of King François—a salamander—is still visible. The architecture of the basilica is inspired by Byzantine designs, characterized by a striking façade of alternating red and white stones, ornate domes, and elaborate mosaics that adorn the interior.

Location: Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, Rue Fort du Sanctuaire, Marseille, France | Hours: Daily 07:00 - 18:00 | Price: Free
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Head down Montee de l’Oratoire. You will see a monument Le char Jeanne d’Arc”, a sherman tank left from the second world war. It remains where it was destroyed, advancing up the hill to attack a German position. Carry on down Montee de l’Oratoire, turn right to walk down the steps next to Caniparc. Take a shortcut down Rue des Brusques and head straight across the roundabout to walk down Rue Fort Notre Dame back to the port.

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