The island is more than 1,000 years old. Its inhabitants are only 41. Every year, she’s visited by at least 3.5 million people.“Do you know the most visited place in France?” asked my French teacher Stéphane Dugois.Most students answered the Eiffel Tower.
We thought that the Eiffel Tower is the most famous French site. Undoubtedly. Everybody knows that, even those who never visit France.“No. It’s Mont Saint-Michel,” he answered shortly.I was surprised.
Mont Saint-Michel is a beautiful rocky tidal island topped with an abbey in the region of Normandy. It’s approximately one-kilometer off the country’s north coast at the mouth of the Couesnon River.
Standing majestically at 80-meters high, sandy land surrounds the island. When the tide is high, Mont Saint-Michel becomes a true island.
Historians used to believe that a forest, called the forest of Scissy, once surrounded the island. Yet the forest disappeared when the sea gradually engulfed it. Its geography reminds me of the Tanah Lot temple in Bali.
The island was listed as a World Heritage Site in 1979, making it one of several French monuments to enter UNESCO’s list. As a favorite tourist d estination, the island is open to the public except on
Jan. 1, May 1 and Dec. 25.
My trip to the island took time. From Dijon, the city where I stayed, I took a train first to Paris for an hour and a half. From Paris I took another train to Rennes for another two hours. Rennes is the
city where I stayed for a night before I continued my journey to Mont Saint-Michel the next day.
When the morning came I hurried to the bus station where frequent buses carry visitors to the island.My bus departed at 9:40 a.m. and it arrived at 11 a.m. So it took almost another hour and a half from Rennes to Mont Saint-Michel.
The island was packed with tourists and I could sense what Stéphane already said. On the island, the ambiance was much more active with tourists flooding the small cobbled-stone streets and lines of restaurants and souvenir shops while 15th— 16th century houses decorated the streets.
One of the many restaurants, La Mère Poulard, is particularly popular for its giant pricy omelet. A French woman named Annette Poulard started the omelet and her restaurant in 1879 and it has been famous ever since. To eat an omelet there costs at least 28 euros.In this place, I could eat the famous omelet, hunt Mont Saint-Michel souvenirs and also visit the museums.There are four museums here. The Maritime and Ecology Museum offers the opportunity to discover the island’s tides and see a collection of 250 old model boats. At the second museum, we entered into a little room and there was a spectacle relating to the island’s history and its process of creation.The third museum is a house once owned by French knight Bertrand du Guesclin in the 14th century.
The house was built in 1365 and the inside gives us a glimpse of a 14th century interior, from the furniture, the bridal chamber to armor previously worn by Bertrand du Guesclin.The Museum of History displays a collection of ancient weapons and medieval instruments of torture.The abbey crowns Mont Saint-Michel. And here lays the island’s long history.
It all began in the year 708, when Archangel Saint Michel demanded Bishop Aubert change Mount Tombe — the ancient name of Mont Saint-Michel — into a holy place. In short, a church should be built and the island should be dedicated to the Archangel.
In the beginning, Bishop Aubert didn’t believe this order. After several miraculous events, he was finally convinced. The abbey started to build its church in the 11th century. It took 60 years to complete.
During the middle-ages, Mont Saint-Michel became a popular pilgrimage destination. Pilgrims came from Normandy, other French regions and Western Europe.
From 1154 to 1186, Robert de Torigny became the abbot. Under his reign, Mont Saint-Michel achieved its golden age. However, political upheaval in1204 caused a part of the abbey to be badly burned.
Later, a donation from King Philip Augustus helped start the reconstruction.In the early 14th century, the hundred years’ war between French and England exploded. King Charles IV soon decided to fortify the abbey, protecting the entrance to the monastery with towers and
However, the war destroyed the abbey’s church. In 1450 construction of a new church began and was completed in 1521. By that time, social trends had shifted. Intellectual, spiritual and cultural centers moved to town — closer to the King’s residence.
As for Mont Saint-Michel, half of its monks moved to town. The French Revolution in 1789 scattered the last monks. After the French Revolution the island served as a prison until 1863. In 1874,
the French Department of Fine Arts finally took action to preserve the island.
After a bleak period lasting almost a century, some 19th century French romantic writers rediscovered its beauty. Guy de Maupassant regarded Mont Saint-Michel as a strange but beautiful object. Writer Victor Hugo, whose notable works included Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, considered it a beautiful pyramid.
For me, Mont Saint-Michel is simply a fairy-tale island. She’s far from the land and far from civilization. Her beautiful form is like something that comes out of imagination — just like her old fairy-tale story of the Forest of Scissy. By Frederica Ermita Indriani, Contributor, Mont Saint-Michel | Sun, 02/27/2011 2:30 PM