The Medieval Le Mont Saint-Michel

The island of Mont Saint-Michel has survived sieges, fires and revolutions over the centuries. While it was once the destination of thousands of travelling pilgrims, today, the  it is a tourist hotspot and a World Heritage site.

Located at the mouth of the river Couesnon, the mount was originally entirely cut off from the mainland at high tide. This provided a natural defence against enemies, as even at low tide the exposed sand flats were treacherous to cross. The Bayeux Tapestry even depicts William the Conqueror’s knights falling into the surrounding quicksand. During the 19th century a causeway was built, providing a safer link to the mainland at low tide. In 2014, a permanent two-kilometre-long bridge replaced this, enabling tourists to travel across safely.

The island’s fortifications were constructed during the 14th and 15th centuries to defend against English armies during the Hundred Years’ War. Cannons abandoned by a besieging English general in 1434 are still on display at the gates. Behind the walls, the village of Mont Saint-Michel stretches around the base of the mount, with winding roads leading to the entrance of the abbey.

Many experts have observed how this layout reflects the hierarchy of medieval society, with the church at the peak of the mount, towering above the shops and houses below. However, after the French Revolution the island was claimed by the new government and converted into a prison. Today, Mont Saint-Michel is still a functioning monastery, and a marvel
for visitors.

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