The Mont-Saint-Michel becomes an island once more…
After 10 years of major works, the Mont-Saint-Michel can now once more become an island at high tide.
World Heritage marvels, the Mont-Saint-Michel and the Bay of the Mont-Saint-Michel are returning to their true natural setting after 10 years of major works. From now on, at times of spring or exceptionally high tides, the Mount reverts to being an island for several hours at a time.
The silting up of the Bay of the Mont-Saint-Michel had increased over the centuries, accelerated by human activities. Little by little, the shoreline retreated as the land, in particular salt marshes, advanced. A car park was then built at the foot of the Mount’s ramparts, somewhat marring the landscape. It is important to remember that the Mount’s exceptional maritime setting was a major factor for monks in medieval times establishing themselves here to build one of the world’s most extraordinary religious edifices.
Recently, though, international experts were adamant – if nothing was done, the Mont-Saint-Michel would be permanently surrounded by salt marshes by around 2040.
So that this spiritual landmark should be preserved for generations to come and for tourists from all over the world, the authorities in Europe, France, Normandy and Brittany decided to take action together.
Protecting a great heritage and tourist site
Studies began in 1995, then the building works got underway in 2005. The ambition to restore the maritime character of the Mont-Saint-Michel counts among the most original cultural operations to have been undertaken in Europe recently.
The aims of the whole project are extremely ambitious – to restore the landscapes and seascapes around the Mount long-term in a far-reaching manner, rethinking the ways to approach this exceptional World Heritage site and keeping alive the spirit of the crossing onto the Mount, showing the greatest respect for this holy site’s history.
The dam on the Couesnon River, cornerstone of the project
The new dam on the Couesnon River has been conceived to give enough strength to the waters running down to the sea so that they push the silt back out into the bay, far from the Mont-Saint-Michel. Beyond its hydraulic function, the dam has been skilfully integrated into the new ways of approaching the Mount, serving both aesthetically and as part of the new routes for visitors to reach the Mount.
Re-creating the spirit of the crossing from mainland to the holy island
The project puts a renewed emphasis on the act of crossing from mainland to the holy island, via a discovery trail that has been totally rethought. What with the new welcome for visitors, the new access routes to the Mount and the new modes of transport to get there, everything has been redesigned, ensuring that the Mount should be accessible to all.
A bridge enabling you to walk on water!
The various architectural elements built to restore the maritime character of the Mont-Saint-Michel have been designed so that the technical functions blend in with the natural beauty of the site. This sensitive architectural approach shows the very concrete way in which the bay and the abbey have been placed at the heart of a project with long-term environmental sustainability in mind. Dietmar Feichtinger, the bridge’s architect explains: ‘‘This new approach should be viewed as a journey rather than a simple crossing from A to B. It offers a crucial, reflective period for visitors to reach this otherwordly place floating in the distance on the horizon[…] From mainland to Mount, the structure’s overall lines create an unbroken, fluid movement.’’
New car parking areas set back from the Mont-Saint-Michel
The new car parking areas have been moved onto the mainland, 2.5km (1.5 miles) from the Mont-Saint-Michel. From the car parking areas and the Tourist Information Centre, free shuttle buses, or paths for those who prefer to walk, lead visitors to the Mount. Those walking can cross the new bridge under their own steam. Those using the shuttle bus are set down 400 metres (1/4 mile) from the Mont-Saint-Michel, so that the unbroken views to the Mount and across the bay are reserved for those on foot.
The Mont-Saint-Michel magically becomes an island once more
Once the tidal coefficient reaches over 110, the Mont-Saint-Michel is briefly transformed back into an island. The base of the Mount’s outer ramparts then find themselves underwater. The Mount is cut off from any access for pedestrians. The phenomenon only lasts a few hours at a time, but it is a novelty that had not occurred for over 130 years!
Being on the Mont-Saint-Michel itself at such times will afford you one of the very best viewing platforms of the grandiose sight of the spring tides in action.