Mont Saint Michel Carte de France

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The Mont-Saint-Michel is one of Europe’s most unforgettable sights. Set in the mesmerising bay where Normandy and Brittany merge, the island draws the eye from great distances.
The staggering location has long inspired awe and the imagination. The story of how the mount turned into a great place of Christian pilgrimage is colourful. Aubert, bishop of the nearby hilltop town of Avranches early in the 8th century, claimed that the Archangel Michael himself pressured him into having a church built atop the island just out to sea.
From 966 onwards, the dukes of Normandy, followed by French kings, supported the development of a major Benedictine abbey on the Mont-Saint-Michel. Magnificent monastic buildings were added through medieval times, one vertiginous section being nicknamed The Marvel. The abbey became a renowned centre of learning, attracting some of the greatest minds and manuscript illuminators in Europe. Vast numbers of pilgrims visited, despite warring cross-Channel royals. However, the ramparts at the base of the island were built to keep English forces out. Other fine buildings went up along the steep village street, now converted into museums, hotels, restaurants and boutiques for today’s tourists.
The Mont Saint-Michel Bay has been prone to silting up in the last couple of centuries. Actions by man, including farming and the building of a causeway to the island monastery, have added to this problem. A major campaign has ensured that the Mont-Saint-Michel preserves its maritime character and remains an island. The main river into the bay, the Couesnon, for example, is being left to flow more freely so that sediments are washed out to sea.
The Benedictine abbey atop the mount has always been the main goal for pilgrims and tourists alike. It is reached via the steep winding village street lined by museums, restaurants and shops. The abbey’s powerful architecture dates mainly from medieval times. It still inspires awe, showing military as well as religious strength.
Inside the sober abbey buildings, absorb the exceptional atmosphere of the church and cloisters and also that of the grand chambers across the wing known as The Marvel, clinging so spectacularly to the rock. In 1966, the abbey celebrated the 1000th year since its foundation. Since then, a part of the abbey has been re-occupied by a small religious community.
Far above the abbey church’s spectacular flying buttresses and Gothic pinnacles, an acrobatic statue of Saint Michael, weigher of souls, stands at the highest point on the mount. Made by the sculptor Emmanuel Frémiet in the 19th century, it recalls the origins of the Christian foundation here.
On summer evenings, you can tour the abbey as night falls, with music and lights adding to the special ambiance.
Several times a year, classical concerts are staged at the abbey.
Mont-Saint-Michel is almost circular (about 3,000 feet [900 metres] in circumference) and consists of a granite outcrop rising sharply (to 256 feet [78 metres]) out of Mont-Saint-Michel Bay (between Brittany and Normandy). Most of the time it is surrounded by vast sandbanks and becomes an island only when the tides are very high. Before the construction of the 3,000-foot causeway that connects the island to land, it was particularly difficult to reach because of quicksand and very fast-rising tides. The causeway, however, has become a barrier to the removal of material by the tides, resulting in higher sandbanks between the islet and the coast.
The island was originally called Mont-Tombe but became known as Mont-Saint-Michel in the 8th century, when St. Aubert, bishop of Avranches, built an oratory there after having a vision of the archangel St. Michael. It rapidly became a pilgrimage centre, and in 966 a Benedictine abbey was built there. In 1203 it was partly burned when King Philip II of France tried to capture the mount. He compensated the monks by paying for the construction of the monastery known as La Merveille (“The Wonder”).
The island, which was fortified in 1256, resisted sieges during the Hundred Years’ War between England and France (1337–1453) and the French Wars of Religion (1562–98). The monastery declined in the 18th century, and only seven monks were living there when it was dissolved during the French Revolution(1787–99). It became a state prison under Napoleon I (reigned 1804–14/15) and remained a prison until 1863; in 1874 it was classified as a historic monument and restored.
The fine abbey church that towers over the island has an imposing 11th- and 12th-century Romanesquenave and an elegant choir in Flamboyant Gothic style (built 1450–1521). The tower and spire, crowned by a statue of St. Michael, were added in the 19th century. The church is built over three crypts, the oldest dating probably from Carolingian times (8th–10th century). The exterior walls of the splendid Gothic monastery La Merveille (built by 1228) combine the powerful characteristics of a military fortress and the simplicity of a religious building. The most striking sections are the refectory, with its high, narrow windows, and the magnificent cloister, with its fine sculptures. A walk in the abbey is a one-way route through fine — but barren — Gothic rooms. A rented audioguide or English-language tour make this historic sight more meaningful. Visitors may explore the impressive church, delicate cloisters, and refectory (where the monks ate in austere silence), and then climb down into the dark, damp Romanesque foundations. A highlight is the giant tread-wheel, which six workers once powered hamster-style to haul two-ton loads of stones and supplies from the landing below. This was used until the 19th century.
From the abbey’s veranda, survey the bay stretching from Normandy to Brittany. The river below marks the historic border between the two lands. Brittany and Normandy have long vied for Mont St-Michel. In fact, the river used to pass Mont St-Michel on the other side, making the abbey part of Brittany. Today, the river’s route is stable and the abbey is just barely — but thoroughly — on Normand soil.
Hang out until after dark when the tourists are gone and the island is magically floodlit. Ramble on the ramparts. Ponder the promise of desolation and a simple life of solitude that attracted monks to this dramatic spot so long ago.

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