Thursday, February 6, 2014

Mont Saint-Michel

Mont St. Michel
'Not for the handicapped!' is what my friend John wrote of his visit to Mont Saint-Michel with his wife.  They recently spent a day hiking up and over this ancient city.

The UNESCO World Heritage City of Mont Saint-Michel was established in the 8th century on a little islet then called Mont Tombe.  It is located on the coast of France near the border between Normandy and Brittany.

According to legends in the area, the Archangel Michael (Saint Michel) appeared in 708 to Aubert, the Bishop of Avranches, now Saint Aubert, instructing him to build a church on the tiny and very rocky island.

Mont Saint-Michel is separated (or connected, depending on how you look at it) to the mainland by a tidal causeway.  This is a strip of land that is totally immersed in water during high tide.

The closest I ever got to seeing Mont Saint-Michel was a visit to neighboring St. Malo.  I remember we looked into visiting the Abbey, but we had limited time in the area and you had to wait, in those days, for the trackway across the sand to be revealed at low tide, or go over by boat.  After checking the schedules, we found that no matter what we did, we would be forced to spend the night on the island, which was not an option at the time.  We had to be content to only view it from afar.

John and Gayle at Mont St. Michel
Fairly recently the whole area has been renovated with an 164 million (Euro) project which made Mont Saint-Michel an island again by removing built up silt, and then building a bridge over the water.Visitors can now walk or use small shuttles to cross the causeway by bridge.  This is much safer that trudging over the sand, even with a guide!

Mont Saint-Michel is built along Medieval lines, with God on top, in other words, the abbey and its monastery at the peak, then below this, the great halls of the nobility.  Below the nobility is more housing and shops, then finally, near the water's edge, outside the walls of the fortress, the houses of the common people, such as farmers and fishermen.

And yes, from what I understand, people still live there!

Mont Saint-Michel has had a colorful history.  At one time it was even used as a prison.  At the urging of author Victor Hugo, however, the entire mount was declared an historic monument in 1874.  It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

Eating crepes in Rouen
John and Gayle continued from Mont Saint-Michel to the city of Rouen, which is on the Seine river north east of the Mount.  Rouen was founded by Gauls, and was already well established by the time of Julius Caesar.

You may recall that the artist Claude Monet painted a series of paintings of the Rouen Cathedral as he experimented with light in his art.  The Musee des Beaux-Arts de Rouen has a good collection of Claude Monet's work.

Rouen was also the home of the French Grand Prix between 1952 and 1968.

The film A Knight's Tale (2001) depicts a jousting tournament in Rouen.  This is where Heath Ledger's character pretends to be a noble so he can compete for the first time.

Rouen street scene with ancient timber framed houses
This Northwestern corner of France is an interesting area, full of history and things to see and do.

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