Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy, France
Noted for its cultural, historical and architectural significance, as well as for its natural beauty and being a product of human achievement, Mont Saint- Michel was added to the prestigious UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1979 and is a popular attraction in France’s Normandy region. Mont Saint-Michel is a tidal island located at the mouth of the Couesnon River, about a half a mile off the country’s north coast. With its current population numbering less than fifty, Mont Saint-Michel has long been valued for its strategic position from a military defense perspective. The island is dominated by the magnificent 8th century Saint-Michel monastery that remains standing despite adversities it has experienced over the centuries, including exposure to the elements.
Experts have ascertained that in prehistoric times the island was part of the mainland. With the rising of sea levels, erosion of surrounding, less durable rocks separated the granite of Mont Saint-Michel and other islands – Lillemer, Tombelaine and Mont-Dol – from the mainland. When Mont Saint-Michel was first inhabited it was connected to the mainland by a stretch of land that was only revealed at low-tide. However, developments in the area resulted in silt deposits in the bay, turning the natural walkway into treacherous quick-sand that claimed a number of lives. So, in 1879 a causeway was built to connect the island to the mainland.
With continued silting up of the bay, caused by various factors including re-directing the waters of the Couesnon River into canals, for a time it seemed that Mont Saint-Michel would revert to being part of the mainland again. But in June 2006, French authorities announced a project to restore the island by building a hydraulic dam and using various methods to remove the accumulation of silt in the bay. The project includes removing the causeway and building a suspended bridge to allow the free-flow of water around the island. This is expected to be completed by 2012, whereupon visitors to Mont-Saint Michel will have easy access to this historic and picturesque attraction.
The history of the island of Mont Saint-Michel goes right back to the 6th century when it was used by ancient Gauls as a stronghold against attackers. The monastery on the island was built in the 8th century under the direction of St Aubert, who was said to have been instructed to do so by the Archangel Michael. The legend goes that St Aubert did not respond to this instruction until the Archangel Michael burned a hole in his skull with his finger. Legends are defined as unverified stories passed down through the ages, but whether the inspiration for building the monastery came about as the legend presents it or not, the monastery is an impressive structure visited by many thousands of tourists each year and is well worth visiting when traveling in the charming region of Normandy on the north coast of France.