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THE MONT-SAINT-MICHEL ABBEY: TO SEE AND FALL IN LOVE

Author: 09.07.2016 | France
Imagine a magnificent picture: in the middle of boundless waves, out of nowhere, before your eyes rises up an ancient mysterious castle - the Benedictine Abbey towering at the top of a rocky islet just out to sea... All around the islet strongest rises and falls of tides are raging, so rapidly that often compared to the speed of galloping horse. Even Victor Hugo could not help but delighted at such a landscape, called the Mont-Saint-Michel "a pyramid in the ocean".

The Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey counts among France’s most stunning sights along with the famous Eiffel Tower. This unforgettable sight draws the eye from great distances. And it all because it is nested at the top of a cliff at a height of 80 meters and its slender spire is soaring 155 meters above sea level. By the way, if you have the feeling as if you have already seen the Mont-Saint-Michel, chances are that you are a fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy because this very abbey was a prototype of the Minas Tirith fortress.

The appearance on the map of the Mont-Saint-Michel is shrouded in a veil of myths and legends... According to the first version, two rocks, which later became the islands of Mont-Saint-Michel and Tombelaine, were dragged into the water by giants: parents of giant Gargantua. But they failed to bring them far since on the way the giants got so tired that dumped heavy lumps almost at the beach. The second version is that the root cause of the birth of the island was a storm that raged here in the early 8th century and changed coastline. Part of the coastal land forever disappeared under seawater, and then under quicksand, and two lonely rocky hills turned into islands.

As for the Benedictine Abbey, the Duke of Normandy Richard I obtained permission from the Pope for its construction in the 10th century. The process of construction of the monastery lasted for five centuries, but in the 12th century, this place has become a centre of pilgrimage for the Western European region. Over the long history of its existence, the Mont-Saint-Michel has turned into an unassailable fortress, and during the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, the Abbey played an important role of the last French stronghold in Normandy. Of course, the heavy hand of history did not spare the ancient monastic buildings. Only in the late 19th century, Napoleon III classified it to national monuments and ordered to begin its reconstruction, and in 1886 the majestic castle was returned to its former glory.

So as a travel to the Abbey did not seem to you an endless wandering down the stairs and narrow alleys, it is advisable to get a map of the area. In the lower tier there is the King's Gate leading to the castle. From here originates the only street on the island named Grand Rue. This charming street is lined by tightly-packed stone houses of the 15th and 16th centuries, which now are occupied by souvenir shops, snack bars, cafés, restaurants, and hotels for today’s tourist. Once in the castle, you feel as if transported to another era. It seems that in this world there is nothing but this secluded island, surrounded by variable force of nature... Fuel to the flame of imagination is added by museums located here. The Historical Museum offers to admire medieval artifacts, among which there is the periscope with two centuries of history. Another place Tiphaine's House completely immerses visitors into the atmosphere of the 18th century, recreating the original environment of houses of that time. And the most interesting is for a dessert! Museum called Archéoscope offers visitors a unique show created with new media technologies. Flavoured with amazing special effects, it tells the story of the island and reveals its unique puzzles...

Special interest enjoys the upper tier of the castle - vertiginous section being nicknamed "La Merveille" ("The Marvel" in French). Admission to the upper tier, which holds religious relics, costs between 9 and 18 euros. "Miracle" is divided into two sections, each has three floors. There are plenty of facilities used for completely different purposes. On the ground floor on the east side there are premises where monks gave shelter to pilgrims. Now here is a shop with souvenirs. Above it there is a guest accommodation in which the Abbot met visitors. Here, one of the two fireplaces, they cooked food. On the second floor there is a former monastery refectory. It is worth mentioning the magnificent gothic architecture of the place: high columns, large windows, spacious rooms and round arches make the castle look light, as if filling it with fresh Norman breeze.

Tour around the Abbey also includes a visit to the Church, which now operates in the Mont-Saint-Michel, Gabriel Tower, guardroom, beautiful terraces... The main point in the tour is a visit to Crypt of Large Pilars and the most ancient part of the Abbey - the underground crypt of Notre Dame, built in the early 10th century.

Unique features of the area are the strongest rises and falls of tides... Even Victor Hugo warned everyone wishing to visit the Mont-Saint-Michel about their danger and, at the same time, describing their insane beauty. Twice during the lunar day waters withdraw as far as 18km from the shore, and then, after 5-6 hours, the seawaters rush back in to the bay at speeds up to 40km per hour! Once again, the waves are beating against the impenetrable wall of an ancient castle, as if trying to compete with it in power, till there is time to retreat... Legend has it that in ancient times this force of nature used to take away lives of lonely stray wanderers, and large carriages who inadvertently chose this path. Now, thanks to its unique natural features, the bay of Mont-Saint-Michel is considered as environmentally important area for farming famous Norman mussels. Those who decide to visit this charming place, have to study the schedule of high and low tides, to feel comfortable and safe. Particular attention to the schedule should be paid by tourists traveling in cars: the higher the water level, more flooded is the Abbey territory, in particular, when water is 12.5 meters high, driveway begins to sink.

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