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Basilica of Saint-Michael the Archangel in Menton visitor guide

Photo of Basilica of Saint-Michael the Archangel in Menton

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The Basilica of Saint-Michael the Archangel is in the town and resort of Menton, in the Alpes-Maritimes department of south-east France. It is on the side of the hill, in the east of the town and overlooking the port.

I can't explain how to reach it because you follow a series of unnamed staircases up the side of the hill, but you can't miss it when you are in the town! From the Place Saint-Michel, the square next to the basilica, you have lovely views out to sea. This square and the buildings around it are all protected historic monuments.

One of the best views of the basilica and of the colourful houses of Menton is from the end of the Quai Impéritrace Eugénie in the port (the quai is named after the wife of Napoleon III) - be sure to take a look before or after climbing up the hill to the basilica.

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France This Way review: the highlight of a visit to the basilica in Menton is its location, on a small square with a terrace overlooking the Mediterranean and along the coast to Italy, while the basilica itself is an impressive and beautiful example of baroque architecture

View along the nave in Menton basilica

The basilica was built in the 17th century, between 1639 and 1653 (although work had started 20 years earlier, it only really got underway in 1639). Menton was a part of the principality of Monaco at this stage, only becoming part of France in the 18th century, as part of the revolution.

The tall belltower on the right side of the church was added at the beginning of the 18th century, and the charming facade was not finally completed until the beginning of the 19th century, although it is still in the baroque style typical of the 17th century, and visitors are unlikely to think they are seeing a 19th century church!

Typical of baroque churches, the facade has eight corinthian style columns and three inset statues at the lower level and four columns at the higher level, and suggests a classical temple with its fronton and classical layout. The middle statue is of Saint-Michael the Archangel, to whom the basilica is dedicated.

The belltower on the right of the basilica follows the same style, is square at the lower levels then has a circular section for the upper part, whch also has several levels. The smaller tower to the left of the facade is from the 15th century and all that remains of an earlier church in the same location.

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The three doors in the facade below the statues tell us that there are three naves - a main nave and two smaller side naves - a layout that is typical of baroque basilicas and many other churches. It is quite a small church compared to many basilicas, with the main nave about 20 metres long and 10 metres across.

The nave and side naves are separated by tall stone columns and round arches. The ceilings are all painted in the baroque style which makes the interior colourful and interesting, even if the individual paintings are not particularly noteworthy. Small windows along the ceiling allow light to enter and the whole interior has a luxurious golden glow.

The main altar is from the 18th century, made of coloured marble and with a statue of Saint-Michael the Archangel that was originally used in processions around Menton each year There are several chapels around the sides of the basilica of interest.

statue and altar in basilica in Menton

The first time I visited the basilica in Menton it was beautifully decorated with red velvet on many of the surfaces, making the inside of the whole church rather like a grand theatre.

I later learned that these wall coverings are made from damask and were a gift to the church in the 18th century from Prince Honoré III who got married here, and are now used to decorate the interior once every five years. I have not seen these again on subsequent visits, I just got lucky the first time!

Attractions nearby

On the same square as the basilica in Menton you can see the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception (or Chapel of the Penitents Blancs), another impressive church from the same period (although the chapel is frequently closed to visitors, you can still appreciate the exterior of the chapel).

The Montée du Souvenir, the small road from the north-west of the Place Saint-Michel, leads you past the cemetery. The cemetery contains many impressive small chapels and gravestones and also has lovely views along the coast.

For more information about the town, which is one of our favourite resorts in France, see the Menton guide.

See more churches in France. You can find more travel ideas in the Alpes-Maritimes guide and the Provence guide.

See also: 

Photos of Basilica of Saint-Michael the Archangel in Menton

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  • facade (1)
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  • nave (1)
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The French version of this page is at Basilica of Saint-Michael the Archangel in Menton (Francais)

 
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