Le Mont-Saint-Michel (pronounced: [lə mɔ̃ sɛ̃ mi.ʃɛl]; English: Saint Michael’s Mount) is an island commune in Normandy, France. It is located approximately one kilometre (0.6 miles) off the country’s northwestern coast, at the mouth of the Couesnon River near Avranches. 100 hectares (247 acres) in size, the island has a population of 44 (2009).
The island has held strategic fortifications since ancient times, and since the 8th century AD has been the seat of the monastery from which it draws its name. The structural composition of the town exemplifies the feudal society that constructed it: on top, God, the abbey and monastery; below this, the great halls; then stores and housing; and at the bottom, outside the walls, fishermen’s and farmers’ housing.
Its unique position of being an island only 600 meters from land made it readily accessible on low tide to the many pilgrims to its abbey. Equally, this position made it readily defensible as an incoming tide stranded, or drowned, would-be assailants. By capitalizing on this natural defense, the Mont remained unconquered during the Hundred Years’ War with a small garrison successfully defending it against a full attack by the English in 1433. The reverse benefits of its natural defense were not lost on Louis XI, who turned the Mont into a prison. Thereafter the abbey began to be used more regularly as a jail during the Ancien Régime.
One of France’s most recognizable landmarks, Mont Saint-Michel and its bay are part of the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites and more than 3 million people visit it each year.