Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Esmeralda. Esmeralda Wonders, “What is life like in France?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Esmeralda!
How about an ancient abbey built over 250 feet above the sea atop a massive granite rock just off the coast of Normandy? Let's take a trip to one of France's most-visited locations: the spectacular Mont Saint-Michel!
The history of Mont Saint-Michel is a long one. Thousands of years ago, the rock that Mont Saint-Michel sits upon was part of the Normandy coast. Over time, rising sea levels separated it from the coast, turning it into a lone island over four miles from the shoreline.
Today, the bay that surrounds Mont Saint-Michel is home to some of Europe's strongest tides and powerful currents. Those waters have pushed silt constantly toward the shoreline, creating more land in the process. Mont Saint-Michel now sits just over a mile off the shore.
Long ago, visitors to Mont Saint-Michel had to wait until low tide to make a quick, sometimes perilous journey across the muddy sands to reach the rock. Now, visitors can park on the mainland and either take a shuttle to the island or walk across on a scenic bridge.
To preserve the island nature of Mont Saint-Michel, the French government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to prevent the tides and currents from making the island part of the coast again. An old causeway has been shut down and a dam has been built nearby that will accumulate water at high tide and then release it at low tide to wash silt back out to the bay.
So what is there to see on Mont Saint-Michel? The tiny town that exists there has only about 50 permanent residents. The island is home to mostly restaurants, hotels, and tourist shops that attract over three million visitors each year.
Less than half of those visitors brave the steep climb up over 900 steps to reach the island's real WONDER: an ancient abbey inspired by the archangel St. Michael. The first chapel built on the site was constructed in 708 by Saint Aubert, the Bishop of Avranches.
A couple of centuries later, the Duke of Normandy gave the site to a group of Benedictine monks, who began constructing the abbey in 966. Over the course of decades, an incredible set of buildings took shape. They remain fantastic examples of medieval architecture to this day.
The abbey would serve many functions over its long history. During the Hundred Years' War, it became a military fortress. During the reign of King Louis XI and the French Revolution, Mont Saint-Michel served as a prison.
Today, Mont Saint-Michel is both a tourist attraction and a religious site. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. Religious activities resumed when members of the Monastic Fraternity of Jerusalem came to the abbey in 2001.
If you ever get the chance, a visit to Mont Saint-Michel is well worth the trip. Set in a scene full of natural beauty, the history and architecture of Mont Saint-Michel will take you on a trip back in time.