Mont Saint-Michel is undoubtedly one of the most inspiring landmarks in France, Europe and maybe the world. Despite how famous it is though, there are many facts about the site that many people are unaware of - here are ten fun facts about Mont Saint-Michel that you likely did not know.
1- A Record-Holding Town
Though in the past the island was home to nearly 1,200 inhabitants, today only 30 people live permanently in the island town. However, today the Mont Saint-Michel enjoys a reputation that spans the entire globe. In fact, it is the most visited site in France outside of Paris, and France is the most visited country in the world. This means nearly three million tourists visit the island annually. This gives Mont Saint-Michel the world’s highest tourists-to-inhabitants ratio, with around 100,000 tourists for every single inhabitant, which is a world record! If you also want to participate in breaking that record, and visit neighbouring beautiful sites of the region, consider our Brittany and Normandy Treasures excursion package.
2- It is the work of a revelation
The legend says that the original chapel was built on the island after Aubert, Archbishop of neighbouring town Avranches, had a vision of Archangel Michael requesting its construction there in the year 709. From 708 until 1792, the Mont Saint-Michel was a European pilgrimage destination second only to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and it continues to be a site of pilgrimage in France today, along with Notre Dame de Paris and Notre-Dame de Lourdes. If you agree that Mont Saint-Michel is beautiful enough to be the work of a divine dream, check out our Mont Saint-Michel posters.
3- It is an undefeated fortress
Mont Saint-Michel is a tidal island, there is water all around the island that made it hard for attackers to penetrate. In addition to this, it has strong fortifications and even at low tide the ground around it is too sandy for a dangerous attack. The English troops, trebuchets and material would get stuck in the sand marsh and make them easy targets for the French defence in the Mont Saint-Michel. All of this made the fort extremely difficult to conquer. As such, it remained uncaptured during the 100 Years War and became a symbol of French resilience.
4- It can be completely cut-off from mainland France
Mont Saint-Michel is a tidal island, meaning that at low tide it is possible to walk there, but at high tide, it becomes an island: however, a bridge was built recently so there is always a pedestrian connection to the island. Despite this, the tides here are said to be the highest in all of Europe and rise very quickly. As such, when the tides are particularly high, about once every 18 years, the island becomes completely locked away from the mainland during high tide. The water regularly rises to such a level that tourists are sternly warned about walking across the sand to the island when the tide is rising, as they could easily get carried away if they get caught in the sea.
5- A famous dish was invented there
Anne Boutiaut, more famously known as La Mère Poulard (Mother Poulard) was a chef who opened her own restaurant on the Mont Saint-Michel in the 1800s. Because her guests were complaining about long waits, she decided to serve them omelettes while they waited for their main dishes. The omelettes were prepared very quickly and always had a delicious, smoky flavour to them and they were light and puffy. Soon these omelettes were more sought after than any other dish, and the restaurant became famous throughout Europe: French newspapers claimed that her recipe was the ‘true wonder’ of Mont Saint-Michel. Mother Poulard's omelettes remain famous today throughout Europe.
6- It was (briefly) a prison
During the french revolution, when there were hardly any monks left on the Mont Saint-Michel, it briefly became a prison for those accused of standing against the revolution. Its fortifications and isolation out at sea made it a perfect place to keep prisoners. However, eventually, historians, archaeologists, artists and many regular French people demanded that the abbey be restored to its former glory. By the year 1863, the prison was closed down and Mont Saint-Michel’s magic was restored.
7- It has inspired many movie settings
Mont Saint-Michel’s appearance is undoubtedly inspiring, which you can see for yourself in our illustrations. Some found it so inspirational they decided to set their epic stories in a similar environment. The capital city of Minas Tirith in the Lord of the Rings series is inspired by the aesthetics of the Mont-Saint Michel. There are also many castles in fairy-tales and kids’ movies inspired by the french monument. For example, the castle in Disney’s Tangled was inspired by the Mont Saint-Michel. Everyone keeps an image of Mont Saint-Michel with them and it inspires them to replicate it.
8- It represents Medieval society
A little-known fact about the majestic architecture of the Mont Saint-Michel is that it is actually symbolic of feudalism. The placement of the buildings reflects the power that each class held in medieval French and European society. Feudalism was a social, political, and economic system consisting of a regime of vassalage and serfdom, in which the clergy were most powerful, followed by the rich nobles, and finally the peasants and servants at the bottom. Mont Saint-Michel reflects this: the abbey is placed on top and dominates the island, with nobles’ houses nearby and fisherman’s houses at the bottom.
9- The wind is gravity-defying
Its location makes the Mont Saint-Michel a rock very exposed to the sea winds. The island is situated off the French coast right between Normandy and Brittany, two regions known in France for harsh winds and in general tough weather. Mont Saint-Michel takes this to an entirely new level. This implies not only to bring a good jacket, even in the middle of summer but also that upon visiting the island you may encounter some fascinating phenomena. Installed on the top terrace, on a particularly windy day, you will be surprised to observe water falling from the gutters... upwards!
10- Mont Saint-Michel has a twin!
The Mont Saint-Michel certainly looks solitary at high tide, but it has a twin brother in England. William the Conqueror, who led the Norman invasion of England, was so inspired by the Mont Saint-Michel he had left behind that he decided to order the construction of a twin brother, called Saint Michael’s Mount in Cornwall. Both Mont Saint-Michel and Saint Michael’s Mount are tidal islands that lie in the channel with an abbey sitting at their peaks. Though Saint Michael’s Mount’s actual island is slightly bigger, it is not as symbolic or as famous as its French counterpart. After all, few monuments in the world can rival the Mont Saint-Michel.
If after reading this you want to visit Mont-Saint-Michel and see the wonder for yourself, we don’t blame you. You should also know that around the regions of Brittany and Normandy are other ‘jewels’ of France’s cultural heritage, such as the historic old fortified city of Saint-Malo. You can also experience what the country is best known for: its excellent food and wines, included in our offer. Check out our travel package here.
If you don’t want to travel but still want to see Mont Saint-Michel and use it for your inspiration and decoration, you can also look at our collection of posters.
Let us end with this inspiring quote about the French monument from Henry Adams, an American historian: "Church and State, Soul and Body, God and Man, are all one at Mont Saint-Michel." – Henry Adams