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1941 : the Bishop of Marseilles becomes owner of the top of the hill

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1941 : the Bishop of Marseilles becomes owner of the top of the (...)

On the 21st July 1941, in front of the Prefect of the Bouches-du-Rhône Department, the act of exchange was signed by representatives of the State and by Mgr Louis Borel who was, at one and the same time, Vicaire Général of the Diocese and Rector of Notre-Dame de la Garde.

France was at that time governed by Marshal Pétain, but as it happened, he never made use of any favour granted by the Government. In fact, the act of exchange was ready in 1939, that is, under the Third Republic, and the signature should have been applicable then. But a new World War had just broken out and this apparently very secondary matter of a signature was postponed. In the event, the State gave to the Diocese the 61.839 sq metres at the top of the hill and received from the bishopric a two-storey house lying in Montevideo Cul de Sac, of a total area of 1,380 sq. mtrs, along with a sum of 35,000 francs. Contrary to what one might think, the State did not lose in the bargain, for, the site being classified, the land on top of Garde Hill has no pecuniary value. The State even benefitted handsomely, for in 1970 it was able to resell very well to a promoter the little house in Montevideo Street which was replaced then by a building several storeys high.


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Un char de la 1ere division blindée détruit par un obus allemand.

But History sometimes springs surprises. The Army leaves the spot in 1941, abandonning the fortress and three barracks nearby. A year later, in November 1942, the Germans invade the south eastern zone of France. In Marseilles , they take up their positions in a number of places and, in particular, German soldiers occupy the barracks on Garde Hill that the French soldiers have just left! And paradoxically, the buildings- which lost their military status ten years ago- are about to find themselves involved in August 1944 in battles far ruder than those they had known since the 16th century.


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Les tirailleurs Algériens à l’assaut de Notre-Dame de la Garde

On the 25th August 1944 the sanctuary is liberated from German occupation by a section of the 1st Company of the 7th Regiment of Algerian Infantry. A few hours earlier, a tank from the 1st Armoured Division had been hit by a shell fired by the Germans from Notre-Dame de la Garde and its three occupants killed. On the next couple of days, the Germans, stil present in various places in Marseilles, kept up heavy fire on the basilica which they knew was in the hands of the Tirailleurs Algériens. The lower part of the Tower was struck by shells and it came close to collapsing. One can still see some shellmarks on certain oustside walls of the basilica,

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Le Général Monsabert accueilli par Mrg Borel à Notre-Dame de la Garde, le matin du 18 août 1944.
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Le clocher est atteint dans sa base

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Le fort triangulaire de François 1er
En rouge et en orange, les parties du mur détruites En vert, les parties masquées par les nouveaux bâtiments, En jaune, les parties du mur toujours visibles.

Between 1950 and 1961, the Bishop of Marseilles put up two buildings along the fortress walls facing the town: the entrance hall with the shop above it and a building comprising a large hall on the groundfloor and, on the floor above, a place which became first a cafeteria, then a restaurant. Three quarters of the walls of the fort of Francis 1st are still in place. But large parts of them are masked by the buildings which the diocese constructed around the fort. The only parts remaining visible are the large bastion seen on the right when viewing the basilica from the front, and a very narrow bastion round the back of the sanctuary.


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Bastion à l’arrière du sanctuaire

The drawbridge installed by the Army in 1879 in front of the entrance to the Crypt. to replace the ancient drawbridge which had had to be demolished when the new sanctuary was built, is still in place.

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Le grand bastion avec, en fond, le pont-levis relevé tous les soirs

The keepers of Notre Dame raise it every evening and lower it every morning: in this way they are cutting off the sanctuary just as the Army used to cut off the fort. People going up to the basilica by the outer steps pass over this drawbridge often without realising it…


Between 2000 and 2008, under the direction of the architect Xavier David, many restoration projects began on the sanctuary. Firstly, outside jobs: in particular one had to replace the green stones which, because of pollution, had partly decomposed. Next there were interior jobs: first the marbles of the basilica and the stonework of the Crypt were cleaned; and the mosaics, some of which had lost their tessellae through the bombing in August 1944, were restored by experts under the direction of Michel Patrizio. And the lighting system was very much improved, bringing out the true value of our magnificent mosaics.

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Les pierres de Golfalina, rongées par la pollution, sont remplacées une à une.
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La restauration des mosaïques est un travail de haute technicité sur des milliers de tesselles, nettoyées, consolidées ou remplacées….

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