The area which is now France was known as Gaul to the ancient Greeks and Romans. Gaul was conquered by the Roman forces led by Julius Caesar in the 1st century BC and increasingly integrated into the Roman Empire. In the 5th century, the Germanic tribes invading Gaul from the east conquered Gaul and established their kingdoms. After the collapse of Western Roman Empire in 476, Merovingian Franks became powerful and the Frankish king Clovis united most of Gaul. Under the Merovingian dynasty, Franks converted to Catholic Christianity. Frankish power reached its fullest extent under Charlemagne. After the death of Charlemagne, Charlemagne Empire was divided into three, East Francia, West Francia or the Western Frankish Kingdom and Middle Francia, forming the basis of modern Germany, France, and Italy. When the Western Frankish Kingdom went extinct in 987, Hugh Capet, Duke of France and Count of Paris, was crowned King of France and established the Capetian dynasty. His descendents, the Direct Capetians, the House of Valois and the House of Bourbon, progressively unified the country through a series of wars and dynastic inheritance. France and England fought wars during 1337 to 1453 known as The Hundred Years' War. In the end, France expelled England from the majority of France territory, during which the monarchyís power was strengthened. In the 16th century, the French War of Religion was fought between French Catholics and Protestants. The monarchy reached its height during the 17th century under the reign of Louis XIV. At this time France had enormous influence over European politics, economy and culture. Much of the Enlightenment occurred in French intellectual circles, and major scientific breakthroughs were achieved by French scientists in the 18th century. In the late 18th century, the French Revolution overthrew the monarchy and the aristocracy. After the political turmoil, Napoleon Bonaparte held power in 1799 and declared the French Empire in 1804. Through the series of wars called Napoleonic Wars, Napoleonís armies conquered much of continental Europe and family members of Napoleon Bonaparte were appointed as monarchs of newly established kingdoms. After the Napoleonís defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, France experienced several regime changes, from monarchy, the Second republic, the Second Empire to the Third Republic which lasted until 1940. The mainland France became major battlefield during World War I and World War II. The Fourth Republic was established after World War II but soon faced the predicament. It could not stop the trend of decolonization, losing French Indochina in 1954 after the defeat in the First Indochina War and soon getting involved in the harsh conflict in Algeria. In 1958, the Fifth Republic was introduced and Charles de Gaulle was elected as President of France. Under the strengthened presidency, he ended the Algerian War and sought independence from U.S. and British influence. France, together with Germany, has been playing an important role in the European Union which has sought the regional integration in economy and politics.
On the second day in France, I went to Mont Saint-Michel, spending three hours on a bus. Mont Saint-Michel was one of the destinations which I looked forward to visiting on this trip.
I enjoyed good weather yesterday, but unfortunately, it was cloudy today. It sometimes rained on the way. Under the threatening sky, a building looking like a tip of whipped cream appeared over the green field. When I first saw it, I felt something strange appeared in front of me. It looked like appearing from a different dimension. The buildings I had seen earlier on this trip were blended into the surrounding scenery, but I strangely felt Mont Saint-Michel was not. I did not know why I had such an impression like that.
I had lunch at a hotel near Mont Saint-Michel. I ordered an omelet which was similar to the famous omelet of “La Mere Poulard” of Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy-style chicken, and an apple pie. All these dishes were local specialties. The eggs of the omelet were so well beaten that inside of the omelet was very frothy and fluffy. It was of course very delicious. “Normandy style” meant that fresh cream was used for the sauce. I heard that the local people pour fresh cream on almost every food. And apple pies are also popular because apples grow well here in Normandy.
After lunch, I went to the long-awaited Mont Saint-Michel. I came closer to Mont Saint-Michel, and my first impression did not change much. Started as a small monastery, Mont Saint-Michel was used as a fortress and a prison for some period of time during its long history, which might be the reason for my first impression.
I walked through the very narrow street called Grande Rue to Mont Saint-Michel Abbey. Mont Saint-Michel has about three million visitors annually, and Grand Rue was crowded with as many visitors as was expected.
Inside the monastery, the pathways were just a bit wider than the street outside. Was it because the monastic buildings had been repeatedly extended in the narrow land, and had sometimes been destroyed by earthquakes?
I looked around the monastery with a tour guide, from the church on the top floor to the refectory and the cloister. Because the buildings were repeatedly extended for hundreds of years, the characteristic beauty of each era was expressed and preserved. According to the guide, the ornaments near the ceiling were painted with various colors when they were created.
I was interested in the huge pulley the most. It was made to carry up the supplies to the buildings. Six adults walked inside the pulley to turn the wheel like rats. According to the guide, prisoners were forced to do so while the buildings were used as a jail. Was the pulley used in this way when the buildings were not used as a jail?
In the abbey, pathways were narrow and many rooms were dark. But there was a room which was large and bright. It was a working room of monks. It was made because the large and bright space was needed for their work. A fireplace was also made inside the room.
When I arrived, it was at low tide, and the area around Mont Saint-Michel was mud flat. I saw tourists crossing to a small island near the Mont Saint-Michel by barefoot. I want to walk to the island by barefoot when I visit here next time. When it is at high tide, the tide covers the area including the route to the island, the parking lot where buses are parked and the green grass field.
I looked around Mont Saint-Michel just like an assembly-line system, following and listening to the guide one by one. I want to visit here again after studying about Mont Saint-Michel much more.