Historical Churches Walking Tour (Self Guided), Marseille

Marseille is rich in sacred places, religious sights and buildings. Most of them represent Roman-Byzantine style and wouldn’t leave you indifferent. Often their interior is decorated with inlaid marble, mosaics and murals.
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Historical Churches Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Historical Churches Walking Tour
Guide Location: France » Marseille (See other walking tours in Marseille)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 5
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.6 Km or 2.2 Miles
Author: kane
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Cathédrale de la Major (Marseille Cathedral)
  • Eglise Saint-Laurent (Saint-Laurent Church)
  • Église of Saint-Ferréol les Augustins (Church of Saint Ferreol)
  • Abbaye Saint-Victor (Saint-Victor Abbey)
  • Notre-Dame de la Garde
1
Cathédrale de la Major (Marseille Cathedral)

1) Cathédrale de la Major (Marseille Cathedral) (must see)

Also known as Cathedrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure de Marseille, it is actually two cathedrals, old and new. In the latter part of the 19th century Napoleon III, Emperor of France, decided to replace the 12th century provencal romanesque cathedral ("Vielle Major"). He had it demolished, all but the choir and one bay of the nave.

He spared the remnant when the outraged population demonstrated against the change. The new cathedral ("Nouvelle Major") is a massive Romanesque-Byzantine Revival structure. Towering over the waterfront, it is 469 feet long, and the main cupola is 231 feet high. It can hold up to some 3,000 souls.

It is located on the Plaza Major. The facade is formed of two different types of stone tile, giving the effect of horizontal bars of color. The locals were reminded of bedtime attire and they often refer to the cathedral as "the Pajamas", no offense intended. The interior features Carrera marble, Tunisian onyx, and Venetian mosaics.

The remains of the old 12th century cathedral huddle alongside La Major. There is not a lot left of it after Napoleon III's smashing venture. There is a chansel and an apse with smaller apses on the side. The vault is cylindrical with an eight-sided cupola above the transept and a seven-sided cupola above the cross of the transept.

Why you should visit:
This is an awesome structure. It declares not so much spiritual glory as it does the past glory of Imperial France. Dominating all around it, it declares power forgotten but never outdone. And besides, admission is free.

Opening Hours: Tue-Sun: 10am-6:30pm (Apr-Sep); 10am-5:30pm (Oct-Mar)
2
Eglise Saint-Laurent (Saint-Laurent Church)

2) Eglise Saint-Laurent (Saint-Laurent Church)

Located at 16 Esplanade de la Tourette, St. Laurent is a church in the Provence Romanesque style of architecture. It was established as a fisherman' parish and erected over the remnants of a temple of Apollo.

There was no sign of Apollo, but a capital was unearthed that certainly must be Apollo's. At least it looks like it very well might be. In any event, this mysterious capital is now on display at the Marseille History Museum.

The St. Laurent Church has fared much better than Apollo. The church along with the Saint Catherine Chapel survived the devastation of the so-called Battle of Marseille during the German occupation. The current state of the building is ok, but its main draw is history. A long history in a city full of incredible histories.

It sits across from Fort St. Jean, accessible by footbridge. The St. Laurent Church appears rather plain looking. Perhaps its facade and interior do not compete well with the other churches in town. But if you go inside, the weight of all those years of struggle and hope will touch you.
3
Église of Saint-Ferréol les Augustins (Church of Saint Ferreol)

3) Église of Saint-Ferréol les Augustins (Church of Saint Ferreol)

The Church of Saint Ferreol is a Roman Catholic church in Marseille. The original building on site was owned by the Knights Templar. However, in 1369, it was given to a community of Augustinian hermits. By 1447, they decided to spearhead the construction a new church building. It was dedicated in 1542, even though the vault was only completed in 1588.

During the Ancien Régime (15th century to 18th century), it was used for professional ceremonies. For example, ship-porters had their own altars in the church as early as 1390: one dedicated to Saint Peter, and a second one to Saint Paul. Pope Clement VII (1478–1534) married his niece, Catherine de' Medici (1519–1589), to Henry II of France (1519–1559), in this church on October 28, 1533.

During the French Revolution of 1789, it came close to being destroyed. However, it was salvaged. Shortly after, it was renamed in honour of Saint Augustine. Later, it was sold to a businessman. Later, it was returned to the Catholic Church.

The high altar was designed by Dominique Fossaty, as were the altars of the Augustinians and of the ship-porters. Inside the church can also be found the Mazenod family's tomb dating back to 1564 and the Montolieu family's tomb, dating back to 1695. The relics of Saint Louis of Toulouse (1274–1297) are also in the church.

The church has a few works of art. Three paintings by Michel Serre (1658-1733) are displayed inside the church: Sainte Marguerite, La Vierge à l'enfant apparaissant à Saint Pierre and Saint Paul. There is also a bust of Saint Ferréol de Vienne. Additionally, there is a sculpture of Saint Augustine designed by Raymond Servian (1903-1953). Another sculpture, by Élie-Jean Vézien (1890-1982), represents Saint Theresa. Yet another sculpture, this time by Louis Botinelly (1883-1962), is of Joan of Arc. A more recently sculpture, designed by Yves le Pape in 1979, depicts the Holy Family.

The neogothic pipe organ, designed by Augustin Zieger, dates back to 1844.
Sight description based on wikipedia
4
Abbaye Saint-Victor (Saint-Victor Abbey)

4) Abbaye Saint-Victor (Saint-Victor Abbey) (must see)

South of the Old Port, overlooking the sea, is the Abbaye Saint Victor. The abbey has always been on that spot, more or less since the year 415. Tradition has it that the abbey was founded by the monk John Cassian. Some say the crypt of the abbey contains relics from St. Victor or evidence of a quarry dating back to ancient Greece.

Cassian founded two monasteries, one for men and one for women on opposite sides of the old harbor. Both were destroyed by Saracen raiders in the 8th or 9th centuries. In 977 monastic life at St. Victor's began again. The abbey thrived more or less until 1794, when in the wake of the revolution it was stripped of all its treasures.

At various stages it became a warehouse, prison and a barracks. It made a comeback in Napoleon's day and it was designated a minor basilica after restoration in 1934 by Pope Pius XI.

Let us descend now, to the ancient crypt of St Victor. What will we find? Tombs. Tombs of saints and some bishops who were also saints. Also there are to be found ancient pagan sarcophagi. Soft music in the background accompanies visitors.

Ascending to the crenelated towers of the abbey we get a stunning view of the harbor and the sea. The abbey is perched on a hill close by Fort Saint St. Nicolas. The monks liked to catch sight of the Saracens and Vikings as far out to sea as possible.

Each year at Candlemas there is a pilgrimage from the Old Port to the abbey. Early in the morning a procession leaves the Old Port and heads to the Abbey. The black Madonna from the crypt is wrapped in her green cloak and presented to the public in the square in front of the abbey where she receives the blessing of the Bishop.

Why you should visit:
The abbey, and especially the crypt of the abbey will take you well back in time when Europe was still being formed.

Tip:
It is worth paying the small fee to go downstairs and visit the wonderful crypt – it is like entering another world!

Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 9am-7pm; Sun: 9am-6pm
5
Notre-Dame de la Garde

5) Notre-Dame de la Garde (must see)

Notre-Dame de la Garde is an ornate Neo-Byzantine church which is situated at the highest natural point in Marseille, a 532 feet limestone outcrop on the south side of the Old Port and it is the site of a popular annual pilgrimage every Assumption Day.

Built by architect Henri-Jacques Espérandieu, 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 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 135 feet is surmounted by a belfry of 42 feet which itself supports a monumental, 27 feet tall statue of the Madonna and Child made out of copper gilded with gold leaf. The stone used for the construction of the basilica was discovered to be sensitive to atmospheric corrosion. 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.
Sight description based on wikipedia

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