If you’re vacationing in the south of France, Marseille is a must-see city. Located in the Mediterranean coast, Marseille has the feel of an old port town while holding the title of the largest city in France – after Paris of course.
Due to its size and diversified cityscape, there are a plethora of varied sites and parts of the city to see. If you’re only in Marseille for a short stay, these are three must-see places on your visit.
Notre Dame de la Garde
Built on the highest point in Marseille, this catholic basilica seems to watch over and protect the city and the bay. Notre Dame de la Garde was built in 1864 and has all of the architectural elements associated with the Romanesque-Byzantine era. As you tour the church you will notice many domes, arched ceilings and stone walls adorned with golden mosaics and murals of religious sentiments as well as vessels (it is a port town after all!).
The exterior of the basilica is made from stone of several different colors and is topped with a 36 foot bronze and gold-gilded statue of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus. It is because of this, along with its massive stature and looming location that locals call Notre Dame de la Garde “la bonne mère” or “the good mother.” Come view this landmark for its amazing architecture and detail and enjoy the sprawling view of the city and the bay.
Château d’If and the Frioul Archipelago
The Château d’If is a short ferry-ride away from the city and sits on an island in the bay of Marseille. Château d’If was formerly built around 1525 under the order of King Francis I as a fort to protect the city from water-based attacks. The fort was never used for its intended purpose, and was later converted into a prison, which was in use until the 19th century. This prison was the setting for Alexandre Dumas’ heralded 1844 novel The Count of Monte Cristo, making the Chateau d’If a popular tourist attraction.
Though the castle has deteriorated somewhat to the ruins one can see today, the complex is still quite large. It is an interesting and historic place to explore, and you can take stunning photographs with the sea as a backdrop.
The château is on the smallest island on the Frioul Archepelago which includes four other Mediterranean islands. Because of the dry rocky microclimate experienced here visitors will see exotic birds and plant-life almost exclusive to this type of environment. Each island has sandy beaches, white cliffs and small creeks, making the archipelago a calming and picturesque stop on your visit.
Although it is one of the lesser-known districts of Marseille, it is definitely the coolest, with a young, diverse and vibrant culture. Sprinkled throughout the streets are cafes, bars, restaurants and small unique boutiques where designers create original up-and-coming fashions. The walls are covered in colorful murals, signs and store-fronts and doors with ironic crystal knobs. The hub of Cours Julen is the center of town with a large fountain that during the summertime is home to open-air markets and antique book fairs. Cours Julien is a place you won’t want to miss during the day, or for the bustling nightlife.
This Mediterranean port city has much to offer for travelers interested in history and art, nature or a unique culture. If you only have a short time to spend here, but wish to take in as much as possible, the Notre Dame de la Garde, Château d’If and Cours Julien will give you a holistic view of the best parts of Marseille.
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