Mont-Saint-Michel gets a facelift
One of France’s favourite tourist destinations, the Mont-Saint-Michel, is experiencing radical changes in order to help preserve the beauty of the bay and to offer tourists an unforgettable experience. The project aims to ensure the longevity of this mythical place which has been a rich source of cultural inspiration for many, from Claude Debussy and his Cathédrale Engloutie to Peter Jackson and his 2003 film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
"The project’s scope is socio-cultural in that it seeks to restore both landscape and architectural heritage, environmental in that is seeks to protect and promote the biodiversity of the bay, and economic in that it seeks to continue to attract visitors by way of its new tourist centre and easier access."
Bruno Legendre, Syndicat Mixte baie du Mont-Saint-Michel
To continue to accommodate the three million tourists who come each year from all over the world to admire this rocky tidal island, the French state and joint council launched a major upgrade for the bay which would allow tidal and river currents to swirl around the mount as before.
Washing away the sediment
This wide-ranging project sought to build a new dam to free the mount from the hold of the surrounding salt marshes. Using the force of the sea and of the river Couesnon, the dam would wash away large amounts of the build-up of sediment from the mount. In two years around 50% of the necessary three million m³ of sediment would be cleared and in eight years this would reach 80%.
As salt marshes rank alongside tropical rainforests in being the planet’s most biologically productive habitats, efforts were made to protect wildlife. One example is the parsley frog (or Pelodytidae), during the hydraulic works ten ponds were created to provide shelter for these frogs during their breeding season (mid-February to mid-April).
A new car park was also put on the table. By demolishing the current parking lot, tides would flow freely again around the mount. The new plans included the building of a prototype to allow for the testing of various surfaces during the construction of the new dam.
Visitors still welcome
Due for completion in 2015, the Mont-Saint-Michel renovation project is already well on its way to changing the face of the bay. The building of the hydraulic dam began in June 2006 and since then all eight water-channeling sluice gates have been laid. These gates close during high tide, thereby preventing the extra water from entering the river.
So as not to hamper tourism during the duration of the works, a visitor centre was set up explaining the project to restore the Mont-Saint-Michel and its state of progress. Visitors were offered free access to the centre and a first glimpse of the Mont-Saint-Michel of the future. Exhibitions, plasma screens and virtual models are keeping excitement alive as the mount undergoes its facelift.
Much research underlies the project. It was conceived in such a way as to leave the natural process of sedimentation in the inner bay untouched. Four years of hydrosedimentary studies were conducted by the specialist laboratory, Sogreah. Before operations began, the modifications were validated by an international scientific committee. An impact survey has highlighted the beneficial effects the work will have on the bay environment.