Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Mont Saint Michel's Restoration

The Mont St. Michel
 The Mont Saint Michel, France's treasured landmark is undergoing rehabilitation of its maritime landscape and ecosystem. In 1884, the great novelist and cultural preservationist, Victor Hugo said in his appeal for the protection of the Mont Saint Michel.  "Le Mont Saint Michel is to France what the great pyramid is to Egypt. It must be protected from any damage. The Mont St.  Michel must remain an island. This combined work of art and nature must be conserved at all costs."

The Benedictine abbey of the Mont St Michel  sits a top a rocky islet about 1 km from the north coast of France at the mouth of the Couesnon River in Normandy.  It  has been a revered pilgrimage site since the early Middle Ages. Listed as a Unesco World Heritage site since 1979, the Mont Saint Michel draws 2.5 million visitors each year who come to admire the unique beauty of the site --its architectural awesomeness and exceptional harmony with he bay. 

This unique environment has been under threat as little by little  the sea is receding and land and salt marshes are taking over rendering the rock abbey irremediably landlocked.   A program of restoration of the bay is underway and will be completed in 2015. Part of the rehabilitation program was the construction of a new dam at the mouth of the Couesnon river, two miles from the Mont Saint Michel that helps push sediments back out to sea and restore the maritime character of the abbey. Since the completion of the dam in 2009,  once or twice a day, through a series of "flushing" actions, the dam gradually sweeps away the silt and sand between the Mont and the "continent". 

 Additionally, in order to protect and enhance the natural setting, cars are no longer allowed to drive up and to park at the foot of the ramparts. Instead, a new car park located 2.5 km away from the Mont Saint Michel has opened on April 28, 2012 and visitors will now approach the island either on foot along a pleasant promenade or aboard shuttle busses called "passeurs"  or picturesque horse drawn carriages called "maringotes". 

 The third stage of the restoration started in 2011 involves the construction of a new and more discreet causeway built slightly offset to the east.  It will be extended by a pedestrian footbridge over the final part of the route before reaching the ramparts. The footbridge will allow the water to ciculate freely around the mount again. After the completion of the new causeway in 2014, the 19th century road will be destroyed and the Mont Saint Michel will recover its natural maritime environment to be once again an island. 

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