Saturday, 6 April 2013

Paris Day 9 - Le Mont Saint Michel, Normandy

From Paris to Normandy. From Joan of Arc's Statue To St. Michael's Mount. From Middle Ages to Modern History. From Here to Eternity.

8 °C
Joan of Arc statue, Paris, France
The illuminated Joan of Arc statue
@ 6AM @ Place des Pyramides.
Tally ho!

In our previous Paris visit, we wanted to see Mont Saint-Michel, but decided not to. While it looks impressive, I was torn between spending a day trip for a few hours of sightseeing Normandy, or used that time to see more of Paris.

Since this is our 2nd trip to Paris and had more than a week, it made more sense to visit this UNESCO monastery.

While there's public transport to go to Mont Saint-Michel from Paris, this option seems a lot of hassles. So we decided to join a guided tour with Cityrama.

The bus trip took nearly 5 hours each way. So it was a long day with early rise. No problem, we had 10 hours in the bus to nap until the cows come home (we did a few cows outside the bus windows in the nice French countryside).

We met at the Cityrama office at 6am. The office is right next to the statue of Joan of Arc, which in turns is located at the intersection of Rue de Rivoli and Rue des Pyramides (the Cityrama office shows up as Cityvision on Google maps).

We took a walk (about 5 mins) from the Cityramam's office to arrive at an underground car park in a hotel to get to the bus. It seems we were the last group to get on board as the bus was almost full.

While on the bus, there was some commentary regarding the fascinating history of Mont Saint-Michel, or Saint Michael's Mount, as well as the Norman Conquest (this is where Normandy get sits name, of course).

Saint Michael is one of God's pantheon of Archangels. Despite His omnipotence, He needs many helpers to run things in Heaven and Earth. Never mind. St. Michael is a very popular saint as evident from the many St Michael churches sprung up around Europe during the Middle Ages. They usually sit on hilltops or promontories. Their commanding positions aren't too dissimilar to Mont Saint-Michel.

Mont saint michel, Normandy, France
The unique pyramid shaped mount of Mont saint michel
The pyramid shape of the inner granite core gives this monastery its unique form. Like the Black Stone (Kaaba) in Mecca, or Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Mont Saint-Michel was also a major focal point for pilgrimage during the Middle Ages. The place is also sometimes called Heavenly Jerusalem for this reason.

Fortification at Mont Saint Michel, Normandy, France
Fortification at Mont Saint Michel
During the Hundred Years War, it also serves as a military stronghold, which takes on a national identity. In an interesting coincidence, Jeanne D'Arc, whose statue stands outside Cityvision office also serves as a similar symbol in the Hundred Years War.

So this building complex has 3 stratifications: the fortification at its bottom, the village in the middle and the monastery for the Benedictine monks up the top. In other words, it's like a typical Medieval European walled town/city. Of course, in the typical Medieval walled city, it's flat, so the villages are located just behind the walls, and the important building like churches and palaces would be in the middle of the walls. Instead of vertical stratification, it's circular stratifications.

Village in Mont Saint Michel, Normandy, France, Europe
The village in Mont Saint Michel

St. Michael statue, Mont St Michel, Normandy
St. Michael statue

St Michael statue, Mont Saint Michel, Normandy, France
Another St Michael statue

St Michael statue, Mont Saint Michel, Normandy, France
More St Michael statue
Above photos show various statues of St. Michael in various places in the Monastery, who carries various things in his hands. The middle statue is a replica of the statue sit on the very top of the Monastery. Of course, the one sits on the pinnacle is gilded, just like the statue of the Maid of Orleans at the top of this article.

You need certain minimum fitness to get to the Abby at the top, which is some 80m tall (equivalent to a 30 storied tall building).

This area not only is of historical important in the Middle Ages, it's actually also played an important role in WW2. In the photo below, beyond the rocky island at the top of the photo is Omaha Beach. If you aren't a history buff, this is the Normandy landings on D-Day (6-6-1944) towards the end of WW2.

If this still doesn't ring any bell, and if you've watched Saving Private Ryan (1998), that's the film chronicled the bloody scenes from that beachhead. It was a decisive battle in WW2.

There're a few colourful dots near the bottom left corner of the photo, they're Chinese tourists. Just to give you a scale of the photo.

The photo is taken from the monastery. There're tours available that take you to see the battle sites, and memorial, etc, on the Omaha Beach. No, we weren't aware of this.

Omaha Beach as seen from Mont Saint Michel, Normandy, France
Omaha Beach on the far side as seen from Mont Saint Michel.
(Open photo in separate window for a larger view)

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