In June, exactly 1,000 years ago, work began on a magnificent island structure off the coast of France as it awe-inspiringly rose from the turbulent Atlantic Ocean waters. It was anticipated that it would endure as a symbol of national fortitude.
The middle age convent on Mont Saint-Michel, an outpouring of walls and braces slipping from an elevated focal tower, was a fantastic creation which plays played critical role in French history over the centuries.
It is one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions outside of Paris as it celebrates a millennium of construction. At times, it has been overwhelmed by its own popularity to the point where its custodians have advised people to stay away.
Over the centuries, the abbey, west of Paris in France’s Normandy region, has attracted a large number of pilgrims. It currently receives 1.3 million visitors annually.
Following an official visit to the location on June 5, French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter, “In the span of 1,000 years, its silhouette has become an emblem of French universalism.“Its abbey, the symbol of what we are: a people of builders.”
On June 23, 2023, the Mont hosted concerts, conferences, and a visual show called the “Millennium Solstice,” which featured an unprecedented light show, to commemorate the abbey’s birthday. Up until November 2023, a history and architecture exhibit is also open to the public.
The Gothic Mont Saint-Michel Abbey towers over its village and thick fortress walls, rising out of a bay surrounded by quicksand and flanked by Normandy and Brittany.
The Mont rises from the water like a French Atlantis when the tide comes in, an architectural marvel set in a stunning natural setting. In 1979, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Mont, also known as the “wonder of the Western world,” has been around since 709, when a sanctuary dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel was built on the rock. From the 11th century to the 16th, it continued to develop into a sacred site.
The abbey has been a part of important events in French history, such as its transformation into a fortress during the Hundred Years’ War in the 14th and 15th centuries and its resuscitation from a British siege that lasted 30 years.
During the 18th-century French Revolution, it became a prison. In the “Bastille of the Seas,” where tides and quicksand made it impossible to escape, 14,000 prisoners had spent time by 1863. Pilgrims who had once walked the village streets were replaced by prisoners’ families.
The monument gradually evolved into the global tourist destination that it is today during the Belle Époque era prior to World War I. The well-known Mère Poulard Inn, named after its founder, the brilliant cook Annette Poulard, has been a popular tourist destination since 1888.
According to legend, Ernest Hemingway, who was working as a war correspondent at the time, sat at La Mère Poulard’s table in 1944 to talk about the D-day landings and one of the most important battles for the liberation of France and Europe, which took place a few kilometers from Mont Saint-Michel, near the town of Avranches, which had been completely destroyed.
Throughout its history, millions of pilgrims have made Mont Saint-Michel their destination of choice. Before Santiago de Compostela, it was the largest Western pilgrimage destination.
Every year, more than 3 million people visit the site, and some weekends are busier than usual. Between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Ascension Weekend in May, the site was flooded with visitors, a number that officials normally only anticipate during the peak summer season.
The site sold a record 10,500 tickets at the nunnery. There were approximately 33,000 visitors to the site in total, which is not a record but still a significant number for the Mont, which typically anticipates this number of visitors during the peak tourist season of August.
Initial projections for the year 2023 indicate that Mont-Saint-Michel will continue to be a very popular tourist destination due to the celebration of the millennium, which presents some challenges for the town’s dozen residents, shops, and natural landscape.
The buses that connect the site now run on biofuels rather than diesel in an effort to improve sustainability. During the off-peak hours of 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., visitors are encouraged to explore the entire bay area and take advantage of the free parking after 6.30 p.m.
Take advantage of the nature and boat tours they’ve organized, for guests. Here, you’ll find Atlantic salmon, eels, and seals. It’s also a chance to see Mont Saint-Michel from a different perspective due to the largest dolphin colony in Europe.