Cathédrale de la Major in Marseille, France

The monumental Cathédrale de la Major is the seat of the Archbishop of Marseille and is considered one of the largest cathedrals built after the Middle Ages.

The Cathédrale de la Major in the western old town of Marseille is actually called "Sainte Marie Majeure" and is often simply referred to as the "Cathedral of Marseille". Situated a few hundred metres north of the Old Port, its impressive domes have been welcoming sailors and travellers to Marseille for over a hundred years.


The ornate cathedral in its breathtaking surroundings is on several of our top 10 lists:

PICTURES: Cathédrale de la Major in Marseille

Photo gallery: Cathédrale de la Major in Marseille

History of Marseille Cathedral

The Catholic Cathédrale de la Major in Marseille, France, was designed by Protestant architect Jacques Henri Espérandieu - © Leonid Andronov / Shutterstock
© Leonid Andronov / Shutterstock

The beginnings of the cathedral already go back to an Episcopal church from the 5th century AD. The so-called "Vielle Major" was destroyed and rebuilt by the Saracens and in the course of the French Revolution.

The current appearance of Marseille Cathedral dates back to the time of Napoleon, when the new building was ordered under Bishop Eugene of Mazenod. The bishop, canonised in 1995, is buried today in the Lady Chapel at the apse.

Construction of the Cathédrale de la Major

The largest dome of the Cathédrale de la Major in Marseille, France, is considered the sixth largest in the world at 70m high - © Alan LE MOAL / Shutterstock
© Alan LE MOAL / Shutterstock

Like the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde, the Catholic Cathédrale de la Major was designed by the Protestant architect Jacques Henri Espérandieu.

Construction of the "Nouvelle Major" began in 1852, and the foundation stone was laid on 26 September during Napoleon's reign. With its imposing appearance, the French emperor wanted to create a symbol of the upswing and prosperity of France.

The neo-Romanesque-Byzantine cathedral was completed in 1896, but its originally planned mosaic decoration has not been finished to this day - for financial reasons.


Visit to the Cathédrale de la Major

The symmetrical alternation of light and dark stone gives the Cathédrale de la Major in Marseille, France, a majestic harmony - © sigurcamp / Shutterstock
© sigurcamp / Shutterstock

At 141 metres long, 50 metres wide and with several domes, the highest of which reaches 70 metres, making it the sixth largest dome in the world, Marseille Cathedral is still an impressive sight today.

Its interior is comparable to the massive dimensions of St Peter's Basilica in Rome and can accommodate 3000 worshippers. The combination of round arches and triangular roofs as well as the symmetrical alternation of light and dark stone give the Cathédrale de la Major a majestic harmony.

The design features of the façade are continued in the interior. Here, too, cross-striped walls dominate, as well as domes and arches, which are responsible for the Byzantine impression.

Apart from a few slender columns and sculptures and mosaics in the choir and crossing, the interior decoration of the cathedral is rather restrained. For this, the individually standing figures in the main room come into their own all the better. Some of them still come from the predecessor chapel from the 11th century.

Once a year, on the Assumption of Mary on 15 August, Marseille Cathedral is the centre of the Marian festival, during which up to 7000 faithful take part in a solemn procession behind a gilded statue of the Blessed Virgin.

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Opening hours and fairs at the Cathédrale de la Major in Marseille