Mont Saint-Michel is a rocky tidal island in Normandy, France. It is located approximately one kilometer off the country's north coast, at the mouth of the Couesnon River near Avranches. The island is best known as the site of the spectacular and well-preserved Norman Benedictine Abbey of St Michel at the peak of the rocky island, surrounded by the winding streets and convoluted architecture of the medieval town. In prehistoric times the bay was land. As sea levels rose erosion shaped the coastal landscape over millions of years. Several blocks of granite or granulite emerged in the bay, having resisted the wear and tear of the ocean better than the surrounding rocks. These included Lillemer, the Mont-Dol, Tombelaine and Mont Tombe, later called Mont Saint-Michel.
Mont Saint-Michel was previously connected to the mainland via a thin natural land bridge, which before modernization was covered at high tide and revealed at low tide. Thus, Mont Saint-Michel has been compromised by several developments. Over the centuries, the coastal flats have been polderised to create pasture. Thus the distance between the shore and the south coast of Mont-Saint-Michel has decreased. The Couesnon River has been canalised, reducing the flow of water and thereby encouraging a silting-up of the bay. In 1879, the land bridge was fortified into a true causeway. This prevented the tide from scouring the silt round the mount.
Mont Saint-Michel was used in the sixth and seventh centuries as an Armorican stronghold of Romano-Breton culture and power, until it was ransacked by the Franks, thus ending the trans-channel culture that had stood since the departure of the Romans in AD 460.Before the construction of the first monastic establishment in the 8th century, the island was called Mont Tombe. According to legend, the archangel Michael appeared to St. Aubert, bishop of Avranches, in 708 and instructed him to build a church on the rocky islet. Aubert repeatedly ignored the angel's instruction, until Michael burned a hole in the bishop's skull with his finger.The mount gained strategic significance in 933 when William "Long Sword", Duke of Normandy, annexed the Cotentin Peninsula, definitively placing the mount in Normandy. It is depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry, which commemorates the 1066 Norman conquest of England. Ducal patronage financed the spectacular Norman architecture of the abbey in subsequent centuries.In 1067, the monastery of Mont Saint-Michel gave its support to duke William of Normandy in his claim to the throne of England. It was rewarded with properties and grounds on the English side of the Channel, including a small island located at the west of Cornwall, which, modelled after the Mount, became a Norman priory named St Michael's Mount of Penzance.During the Hundred Years' War the English made repeated assaults on the island but were unable to seize it, partly due to the abbey's improved fortifications. Les Michelettes, two wrought-iron bombards left by the English in their failed 1423–24 siege of Mont Saint-Michel, are still displayed near the outer defense wall.The wealth and influence of the abbey extended to many daughter foundations, including St Michael's Mount in Cornwall. However, its popularity and prestige as a centre of pilgrimage waned with the Reformation, and by the time of the French Revolution there were scarcely any monks in residence. The abbey was closed and converted into a prison, initially to hold clerical opponents of the republican régime. High-profile political prisoners followed, but by 1836 influential figures, including Victor Hugo, had launched a campaign to restore what was seen as a national architectural treasure. The prison was finally closed in 1863, and the mount was declared a historic monument in 1874. The Mont Saint-Michel and its bay were added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1979, as they rank very high on such World Heritage Site criteria as cultural, historical, and architectural significance, as well as human-created and natural beauty.
The tides in the area change quickly, and have been described by Victor Hugo as "as swiftly as a galloping horse".The tides can vary greatly, at roughly 14 metres between high and low water marks. Popularly nicknamed "St. Michael in peril of the sea" by medieval pilgrims making their way across the flats, the mount can still pose dangers for visitors who avoid the causeway and attempt the hazardous walk across the sands from the neighbouring coast. The danger of drowning due to coastal tides after getting caught in quicksand continues to claim lives.Polderisation and occasional flooding created salt marsh meadows that were found to be ideally suited to grazing sheep. The well-flavoured meat that results from the diet of the sheep in the salt meadow makes salt meadow lamb, a local speciality that may be found on the menus of restaurants that depend on income from the many visitors to the mount.
The old town at the base of the abbey hosts a wide selection of restaurants, cafés, fast food outlets and other food venues. Note that Mont Saint Michel is more than slightly a tourist trap with regard to refreshments and travellers' needs - check a number of places for the best deal before ordering. Even then, do not rely on good service. Walking on the Mont Saint Michel, you should be very careful, and if you have children, watch them closely. The person writing this was almost the victim of a fatal accident, when a young child just above me, moved on top of the steps, just before ticket sale, and almost fell. Afterwards, I heard that a man was taken away somewhere else on the Mont, black and blue from a fall. And an older man fell two steps from the stairs, but luckily got hold of something. The steps are good and wide enough though.