Notre Dame de la Garde : Marseilles City Emblem

Towering at 154 meters, Notre Dame de la Garde graciously dominates the city and the port. In 1214, a first chapel, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was erected at the top of the hill and rapidly became an object of increased admiration. Three centuries later, in 1525, Francois the First finds the perfect location to protect the city and has a fort built in its place. Its original religious calling is quickly substituted by a military one. In 1864, the chief architect in charge of the construction of the basilica irritated many Catholics from Marseilles. Despite the fact that his name was fated, Esperandieu, he was protestant. Today the basilica is the emblem of the city of Marseilles; however his choice of a Roman-Byzantine style continues to give rise to numerous controversies. As a testimony to the rich diversity of the city, a must see for any tourist, this monument leaves no visitor indifferent. Topped by a statue of the "Good Mother", 11.2 meters high and entirely covered in gold leaf, the basilica dominates the fortifications and welcomes home all sailors and pilgrims with kindness.



The Island of If: Château d'If

Located in the middle of the Bay of Marseilles, the Island of If was for many years the ideal landmark for pirates and smugglers, and the perfect paradise for fishermen and hunters. In 1516, an unexpected visitor, coming from Rome, had a short stay: a rhinoceros from India given to Pope Leon the Tenth by the King of Portugal. Totally unknown in Europe, the animal provoked much curiosity. Even Francois the First, king of France, traveled to see it. Unfortunately the animal could not endure the weather. It died and was stuffed before continuing his travel to his new owner. A few years later, Francois the First ordered a fort built on the island to protect the port’s access. The people of Marseilles were very displeased with this visible presence by the royal power on their territory, but quickly understood the necessity of it: the city now became virtually impossible to penetrate from the sea. Also understanding that it was equally impossible to escape from the island, the castle was converted to a state prison as early as 1580. The prison, Château d'If, which is best known as the penal setting for Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo. François I built the fortress here to defend Marseille and its port. The cells are horribly well preserved; carvings by Huguenot prisoners can still be seen inside some of the cells. The views back towards Marseille and the mountains beyond are wonderful.

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