Le Mont Saint-Michel
Le Mont-Saint-Michel is a wonder of Europe, a majestic city surrounded by sand and sea. An ancestral fortress against the Norman invaders.
A monastery for pious men of God. A center of pilgrimage for medieval travelers… and nowadays, for millions of tourists.
This fascination that has endured centuries must have some good basis, mustn’t it ? Let’s find out !
Et toi ?
Have you ever been to Mont-Saint-Michel?
How was your visit? Any tip to share?
Which other French monument would you like me to talk about?
Bonus Material: Download the Transcript
Salut c’est Géraldine, bienvenue sur Comme une Française TV, Sound French, even to the French.
As Victor Hugo once wrote : “Le Mont-Saint-Michel apparaît comme une chose sublime, une pyramide merveilleuse”
“Mont Saint-Michel appears like something sublime, a wonderful pyramid.”
A giant rock standing strong in the middle of the bay, an island in a sea of sand, an ancestral city whose towers rise up to the sky for the greater glory of God… Mont Saint-Michel is really a sight to behold. One of the French wonders.
Let’s dive in.
- Un site touristique
The mount is a famous tourist site. 3 million visitors walk up the rock each year ; it’s among the top 10 most visited French landmarks, and the first outside the Parisian area.
It’s been depicted in art since the Bayeux tapestry, and is nowadays in various movies, from Terrence Malik to Michael Bay... It’s also been the inspiration for many fictional cities as well, from the City of Amber to Minas Tirith, or Oldtown in Game of Thrones.
But it’s a real place in la Normandie, Normandy!
There are some subtleties in the names we use : Le Mont-Saint-Michel is the official name of the city, capitalized and hyphenated ; it’s a town with its own administration, inhabitants and official borders. It’s une commune française, a French town !
Within its borders, you’ll find le mont Saint-Michel, the Saint-Michel mount, the rock itself, dedicated to Saint Michael. It stands in the middle of la baie du mont Saint-Michel, the bay of mount Saint-Michel, a sand plain in Normandy sometimes completely submerged under the waters of la Manche, (literally the sleeve, or in English : the English Channel).
The city used to be a monastery, a place of pilgrimage, a jail, then un monument historique : a historical building, officially protected by the state. It even became a World Heritage Site. To access the site, you can park a few kilometers from the rock, outside the bay. You can then take the official bus - or walk - and cross the bridge over the bay. You’ll find more practical information, such as prices or timetables, on the website of their office du tourisme, the tourist office : you’ll find the link below the video on the blog.
L’abbaye, the abbey, is the center of the site. It’s been a place of prayer, worship and pilgrimage since the 9th century, during the Viking raids on the coast.
Since then, the abbey has survived through the centuries : it’s been a battlefield in la Guerre de Cent Ans, the hundred year war between French and English kingdoms. It never stopped growing, stone after stone, tower after tower, until it became a wonder of l’architecture gothique, gothic architecture.
The monks’ numbers, however, slowly declined until the end of the 18th century. With the Revolution, the religious orders were ultimately expelled from the city and the abbey was only used as a jail.
Until, finally, a campaign led by Victor Hugo in the 19th century finally turned the site into a protected place of heritage and history.
The monks returned in the early 20th century, and are still active today. You can even spend a few days there in spiritual retreat with them if you want.
For most people, however, the abbey is a nice visit to make ; the guided tour leads you through the arches of the chapels, the cloisters, and most important, the view on the majestic bay.
- La ville et la baie
La ville du Mont-Saint-Michel, the city of Mont Saint Michel, is a tourist town between the ramparts. The streets are steep and narrow, and made of cobblestones ; they wind along the slopes of the Mount, from the sea up to the abbey, a hundred meters higher.
The 43 official inhabitants of the city are called Les Montois ; they earn their living thanks to tourism, of course. To accommodate around 3 million visitors each year, the town is teeming with restaurants, from the traditional crêpes normandes, Norman pancakes, to the occasional kebab ; it’s also full of hotels and souvenir shops.
And old houses, and lovely points of view over the bay, through the walls.
And that’s when you find out exactly why the site is so successful ; and has stood so well protected during the centuries. The rock is a famous tidal island – during low tide, it stands in the middle of the sand ; but when the high tides roll in, it becomes an island separated from the continent. You’ll find a more in-depth explanation in a link below this video, thanks to popular science TV-show C’est Pas Sorcier !
Anyway. This phenomenon made the city a great fortress during the Middle Ages - as well as a powerful prison later.
In recent times, there used to be a levee to cross the bay, that prevented this from occuring ; it’s been replaced in the last few years by a new bridge. The rock became an island again.
If you’re brave enough, you can take a walk in the bay ; from time to time, we hear tales of quicksand, or people being trapped on a small sand island when the sea comes back, and ending up trapped by the water.
That’s why you have to follow an officially trained guide to see the area.
You can do that on foot, or, even riding horses. Several companies can lend you guides and horses around the bay, and you can spend the day riding around the wonders of the Mount – natural and man-made.
Et toi ? Have you ever been to Mont-Saint-Michel? How was your visit? Any tip to share? Which other French monument would you like me to talk about?
Share your experience (in French if you dare!) in the comments below. We can all learn from your story. The comment section is the best place to start discussions and ask questions! Don’t hesitate to comment if you liked this video, or if you have something you want me to talk about - I’ll read all your comments.
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Bonus Material: Download the Transcript