At around 9.30pm several hundred people gathered on Wednesday night to watch the tide surround the popular attraction of Mont-St-Michel for the first time since 1879. Unfortunately the spectacle only lasted around 20 minutes, before the tide receded.
“For the first time in a long time we will see the sea surround the Mount,” a delighted Laurent Beauvais, President of the Basse-Normandie region and the union in charge of the works told Le Figaro newspaper.
Previously, the island abbey, situated around one kilometre off the coast of Normandy, was attached to the mainland by a tidal causeway constructed 134 years ago.
Now, thanks in part to renovation work that began in September 2012, the sea can finally encircle the island when the tides are high.
The rest of the causeway is now set to be destroyed and work will continue on a bridge which will provide emergency access to the island. Eventually it is estimated that the Mont-St-Michel will be cut off from the mainland between 50 and 90 times each year.
The €230 million restoration project aimed at restoring the monument's natural maritime environment has attracted much criticism partly in connection with the construction of a parking lot 2.5km from the abbey at a cost of €184 million to the French tax payer.
A couple watching the “historic” event last night told Le Parisien: “It’s rare and we’re here, we came at the right time.”
Located in Lower Normandy on the north-west coast of France, the island is renowned for its Gothic-style Benedictine abbey, and attracts an estimated 2.5 million visitors a year.
There was more good news for the World Heritage site this week when it was announced that the European Commission had donated €10 million to the second phase of the island’s restoration project.
The project’s aims include protecting the island’s ecosystem, reducing CO2 emissions and boosting tourism.
The Island was in the news for all the wrong reasons in February this year, when Eric Vannier, Mont-St-Michel’s mayor, was hit with a €30,000 fine for using his position of power to make sure bus services shuttling visitors to the site left from outside his businesses.