Built on a granite islet, right in the middle of an immense bay, engulfed by the largest tides in Europe, Mont Saint-Michel has survived several centuries and is a true place of collective French memory.
Mont-Saint-Michel is, above all, a French Commune located South-West of the Manche department and the Lower Normandy region. The architecture of Mont Saint-Michel and its bay are the third most visited site in France (after the Eiffel Tower and the Château de Versailles) receiving almost 3 million visitors per year. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Mont-Saint-Michel stands right in the middle of an immense bay, engulfed by the largest tides in Europe. On the border between Normandy and Brittany, located between Cancale and Granville, with a surface area of around 500 km2, the bay of Mont Saint-Michel is the largest area of salt marshes and polders in France. It stands out due to an exceptional amplitude between high tide and low tide – up to 15 metres during the tidal period. It has a large diversity of natural areas and exceptional fauna, flora and light.
The tides in the bay of Mont Saint-Michel are very impressive: with an amplitude of almost 15 metres on the days when they are particular strong, the sea pulls back very quickly for about ten kilometres, but returns just as quickly. In order to return it to its original status, important bay landscaping works were launched in 2005 (a new dam in the Couesnon, works to remove sand and to remove the causeway and the car park), which allowed Mont Saint-Michel to be completely re-established!
On the Southern side of the rock, hidden by the walls that date back to the 12th and 15th centuries, the village has a large number of historical monuments, small local museums and tourist businesses. Visitors can take the round path, interspersed with small, protected gardens and admire the magnificent coastal view, without forgetting to try the local specialties such as the saltbush lamb.
At the request of the Archangel Michael, "leader of the heavenly armies", Aubert, Bishop of Avranches built and consecrated the first church on the 16th of October, 709. In 966, following the order from the Duke of Normandy, a community of Benedictines took up residence on the rock. The pre-Roman church was built before the year 1000. In the 11th century, the pre-Roman abbey church was founded on a collection of crypts at the rock’s point and the first monastic buildings were annexed to its Northern wall. In the 12th century, the Roman monastic buildings were extended to the West and to the South. In the 13th century, a donation from the King of France, Philippe Auguste, following Normandy’s conquest, led to the construction of the Gothic Mont Saint-Michel, « la Merveille » (« The Marvellous »): two three-story buildings, crowned by the cloister and refectory, which constituted the monks’ real living area. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Hundred Years War made it necessary to protect the abbey with a group of military constructions that allowed it to resist a siege of over thirty years. The abbey church’s Roman choir, which collapsed in 1421, was replaced by a flamboyant Gothic choir in the late Middle Ages. Continuously rearranged until the 18th century, the Benedictine abbey best synthesises the Carolingian, Roman, flamboyant Gothic and Classical styles. Having become a prison under the Revolution and the Empire, this exceptional architectural ensemble benefited from a restoration policy that was maintained after its declaration as a national monument in 1862. At the church’s summit is a gilded bronze statue of the namesake saint slaying a dragon that sits 170 metres above sea level since 1897. It was created by the French sculptor, Emmanuel Fremiet, and added to the church after the first large restorations that took place at the end of the 19th century.
Careful with the tides
The biggest tides in Continental Europe have taken place at Mont Saint-Michel, with a 15 m difference between high and low tide. It is extremely dangerous to wonder into the bay alone as well as to Mont Saint-Michel’s immediate accesses.
For more information on the tides, visit the official Mont Saint-Michel Tourism Office website: www.ot-montsaintmichel.com