One of my favourite places in France is the Mont Saint-Michel, which in English means Saint Michael’s Mount. The Mont Saint-Michel is a tiny island situated at the mouth of River Couesnon in Normandy, next to its border with the region of Brittany.
The island lies at a strategic position and it has held fortifications from the ancient times until the 8th century, when the monastery of Saint Michel was built on it and gave it the name by which it is known today. Until that time the island was known as monte tombe, because of the tumulus (=mound of soil or rocks over a tomb or tombs) that was lying there and which was possibly associated with the religion of Mithraism, worshiped at the time.
In 1067, the monastery of Saint Michel was given properties and grounds in Great Britain, as a reward for giving its support to Duke William of Normandy in his claim to the throne of England. These properties included a small island off the southwestern coast of Cornwall, which was modeled after the Mont Saint-Michel and was given the name St Michael’s Mount of Penzance (Cornish: Pensans).
What makes the Mont Saint-Michel really special, though, is the tides in the region, which can vary at around 14 metres between high and low water marks, transforming it from a rocky mound to a majestic island! These tides have been known to change very quickly, and that is why they have been described by the great French poet and novelist, Victor Hugo, to change “à la vitesse d’un cheval au galop” or “as swiftly as a galloping horse”.
In prehistoric times, the bay, where the Mont Saint-Michel is situated, was land. As the sea level rose, erosion shaped the coastal landscape over millions of years and transformed the Mont Saint-Michel into an island, connected to the mainland through a narrow tidal causeway, fully covered when the tide was high and revealed when the tide was low. This connection has been altered over the centuries in order to facilitate access to and from the island.
The Mont Saint-Michel and its bay have been inscribed on UNESCO‘s list of World Heritage Sites since 1979, for their cultural, historical and architectural significance, as well as for their human-created and natural beauty. It is no wonder why more than 3,000,000 people visit the Mont Saint-Michel each year. If you visit this region of France, make sure you do not miss this impressive monument.