Everywhere you go in Marseille, you'll see the golden statue of the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde, the Romano-Byzantine basilica rising up from the city's highest hill, La Garde (530ft/162m). Built between 1853 and 1864, the domed basilica is ornamented with colored marble, murals, and intricate mosaics, which were superbly restored in 2006 after suffering damage from the atmosphere, candle smoke and war. Bullet marks and vivid shrapnel scars on the cathedral's northern façade mark the fierce fighting that took place during Marseille's Battle of Liberation in August 1944.
Its bell tower is crowned by a 30 ft (9.7m) tall gilded statue of the Virgin Mary on a 40 ft (12m) high pedestal. Locals see her as the guardian of their city and call her 'la bonne mere' or the good mother. Each year on August 15th, there is a popular Assumption Day pilgrimage to the church. From the dome you get a 360-degree panorama of the city's sea of terracotta rooves below.
Marseille Vieux Port, or Old Port, is the hub of the city. It was the natural harbor of this port town since antiquity; the Greeks landed here in 600 BC and set up a small town for trading. The town grew and in the middle ages became a center for growing cannabis, or hemp, for nautical rope. Hence the name of Marseille's main street Canebiere, which leads down to the old port. By the mid-1800s, the port of Marseille could dock over 1,000 ships at one time and around 18,000 ships passed through each year. However once steam took over from sail, the harbor proved too shallow and the focus moved to new docks built at La Joliette. Then in WWII, the Nazis obliterated the port and the historic town in the Battle of Marseille. After 1948, a reconstruction project was undertaken and these days the port is again a bustling center of Marseille, although these days only for leisure boating.
These days the New Port, to the north, has taken over the commercial harbor functions.
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