Mont Saint-Michel

One of the most spectacular man-made sights I’ve ever seen is Mont Saint Michel, at the mouth of the Couesnon River in northern France. The causeway leading out to the island was on tidal flats in an area of, at times, very high and very low tides. In earlier centuries, the road to the island would have been underwater at high tide. In 1879 a higher causeway was built. Over the years, the silt deposits from the river, have shortened the distance from the shore to the island. Recently, efforts have been made to dredge the area and put a small bridge instead of the causeway (info from Wikipedia).

The first monastic structure was built on this rocky island in the 8th century. It was the scene of many power struggles over the centuries. The design of the place reflects the structure of the feudal society living there at the time. With a tribute to God at the top, the abbey and monastery next to “God,” the Great Halls were next and then the houses and stores around them. Outside the fortress walls were the homes of the fishermen and farmers.

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Inside the walls, is a maze of narrow streets leading through areas of shops, restaurants, and hotels, all catering to tourists. As you can see from the photo below, it’s a very popular place.

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The monastery was changed to a prison in the 1800s, but remnants of the monastic life remain. The monks, like the prisoners of later years, seldom left the buildings, let alone the island. Supplies and food were brought in and delivered through one of the few points of access, shown below. A windlass was used, like a waterwheel, powered by men walking inside it much like hamsters in a wheel. This would winch the supplies up the wall along a sloping brick escarpment which had ridges built into it to prevent the load from sliding back down if the “hamsters” stopped to rest.

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The appearance of the approach to Mont Saint-Michel will already have changed since I took these photos in 1977. It will be interesting to see the changes with the proposed bridge which is to be finished in the next year or two.  This island fortress/monastery/prison is not only a thing of beauty, but an amazing construction to have lasted for so many centuries. It is a sight worth seeing.

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When I posted this, I didn’t realize that Mont Saint-Michel is the destination of Stage 11 of the Tour de France this year. This part of the race takes place on July 10th so watch for it and you may see glimpses of Mont Saint-Michel. For a map, go to this site.

40 thoughts on “Mont Saint-Michel

  1. I wouldn’t know there were so many people in this beautiful place, because in every picture it looks so desolate, almost abandoned. Know I know, I’ll be prepared if I am so lucky to go there some time. Nice photos, Anneli.

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    • With your camera, you’d get some fabulous shots! And yes, I was surprised too, that there were so many people in that relatively small place. Only 44 people live there, according to Wikipedia, but there are big crowds of tourists. Those 44 must all be shop or hotel owners.

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      • You are a patient woman! I am suprised you are spending summer time on that… summer in Phoenix loans itself so well to inside projects! I still need to purchase your books, but have been slowly crawling… literally back from my knee surgery recovery… can’t wait to be 100%. This weekend the kids leave for Europe and we follow for Greece adn Germany, so once again I’m so engaged and enjoying other people’s work… hope to be back on regular blogging schedule soon!

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  2. I particularly liked this post Anneli as when I went to Mont Saint Michel about 8 years ago, I was with my parents and have fond memories of a lovely holiday with them. Easter 2012 I was on holiday in Cornwall with my two youngest children, and the view from our cottage was of St Michael’s Mount – the UK cousin of Mont Saint Michel. If you’re ever in the UK, it’s definitely worth a visit.

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  3. Pingback: Unbroken Oyster Season in Cancale, France | Victor Travel Blog

  4. Wow, I’m glad you got the pictures from the way it was. That hole in the wall is so intriguing. I’m imagining an intruding “swarming” up and stealing in at midnight.

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  5. The short story about Mont Saint-Michel is Michel Lorio’s Cross. You can find it online if you want to look into it. The story was about a fisherman who rescues a girl from the rising tide by hanging his net from some sort of stake and putting her in it while he drowned.

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