Touring Mont St. Michel
Sep 30, 2015
|Wednesday, September 30th, touring Mt. St. Michel
We met our driver at the reception area for a 9:30 am departure. It was about a 10 minute wait to catch the shuttle provided free of charge out to Mt. St. Michel.
The shuttle stop was at an information building and at the end of a series of parking lots that had room for several thousand cars. They were very well organized.
These shuttle buses were an interesting design. As we found out shortly there was no room for the bus to turn around on the causeway so the bus was designed to be driven in both directions.
Save me from tourists. Why would one get off a bus, stop and start taking pictures? What about all the other people who would like to disembark!!
Up close the whole island looked like a fairy tale moment. It looked like some magical structure rising out of the sea. The shuttles kept dropping people off despite the fact that we couldn’t get to the island due to the tide. We literally watched the tide recede to the point where we could cross the cement causeway and enter the village at the base of the island.
The bay around the Mont is famed for having Europe’s highest tidal variations, the difference between high and low tide can reach an astonishing 18 metres. At low tide the Mont is surrounded by bare sand and mud for kilometers but at high tide, barely 6 hours later the whole bay can be submerged.
The history of Mont-St.-Michel is thought to date back to 798, when the Bishop of Avranches had a sanctuary build on Mont-Tombe in honour of the Archangel. The Mont soon became a major focus of pilgrimage. In the 10th century, the Benedictines settled in the abbey, while a village grew up below its walls. By the 14th century it extended as far as the foot of the rock. Its ramparts and fortifications resisted all the English assaults during the 100 yrs. war and as a result the Mount became a symbol of national identity.
This site was classified as a historic monument in 1874 and has regularly undergone major restorations since.
The result being that visitors can now experience the splendour of the abbey that the peoples of the Middle Ages regarded as a representation of the heavenly Jerusalem on earth, an image of Paradise.
It has been listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1979.
Constrained by the pyramidal shape of the rock the medieval builders wrapped the buildings around the granite rock.
The abbey church, situated at the top, stands on crypts that create a platform designed to take the weight of a church 80 metres longs.
The entire structure is evidence of the architectural mastery of its 13th century builders who succeeded in perching two blocks of 3-story buildings on a steep rocky slope. This required very precise technical calculations. On the ground floor the narrow side aisle of the cellar acts as a buttress. Above that the supports of the first two storeys of the western building are stacked on one another. Finally the structures become progressively lighter towards the top. On the outside, the building is supported by powerful buttresses.
Obviously this whole structure sits on top of a hill. Obviously in order to reach it you have to walk up hill; first, up the road which gradually winds uphill. The good news is; many shops and restaurants line this street so there is plenty of opportunity to stop and look or to read menus and to breath.
When the road peters out you are met with a series of long staircases until you reach the Guard Room at the entrance to the abbey. Once you have regained some sort of normal breathing pattern and handed in your entrance ticket, you have to climb another series of stairs known as the Grand Degre!!!!!!!
These lead to the west terrace, which offers incredible views of below as well as the coastline and a unique view of the abbey church built 80 meters above sea level. Hallelujah we are at the top!!
Walking through the rooms you couldn’t help but feel transported back in time. I could almost hear the rustle of the monks robes as they hurried down the connecting halls and staircases. Every room we entered had a WOW factor built in from the stain glass windows to the windows themselves, to the wheel that 10 men walked within to haul supplies up to the abbey.
We couldn’t help noticing how far the tide had receded during our visit. It was really quite an amazing sight.
There were ramparts built around and in the rock which we walked an enjoying the views, marvelling at the tide, watching the sheep grazing in the distance and the people entering and leaving this island.
We felt very fortunate to have experienced both the hide tide and part of a low tide.
When the shuttle dropped us off back at the parking lot we had time to explore the exhibit building before our van picked us up. It was well worth the visit. Among others there were displays detailing their efforts to restore the natural habitant around the island.
All and all it was a very good visit – despite the stairs.