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People walk past France's Mont-Saint-Michel during the French President's two-day visit in Normandy, in Le Mont-Saint-Michel
People walk past Mont-Saint-Michel during the French president's two-day visit in Normandy on June 5, 2023. Photo by Ludovic Marin/ Pool via REUTERS

Mont-Saint-Michel celebrates 1,000th birthday

PARIS (AP) — France's beloved abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel has reached a ripe old age. It's been 1,000 years since the laying of its first stone.

The millennial of the UNESCO World Heritage site and key Normandy tourism magnet is being celebrated until November with exhibits, dance shows and concerts. French President Emmanuel Macron is heading there on Monday.

Macron plans to deliver a speech and to see a new exhibit tracing the Romanesque abbey's history via 30 objects and pieces, including a restored statue of Saint Michael. Legend has it that the archangel Michael appeared in 708, duly instructing the bishop of nearby Avranches to build him a church on the rocky outcrop.

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The exhibit, two years in the making, opened last month. It covers the complex process of building what is considered an architectural jewel on a rocky island linked to the mainland only by a narrow causeway at high tide.

Snow and freezing temperatures hit northern France
A view shows the snow-covered Bay of Mont Saint-Michel in the French western region of Normandy, as winter weather with snow and cold temperatures hits a large northern part of the country on Feb. 10, 2021. Photo by Stephane Mahe/ Reuters

Four crypts were constructed on the granite tip along with a church on top. The exhibit explains how the original structure, built in 966, became too small for pilgrims, spurring on the builders to create the 11th century abbey that stands to this day.

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An aerial view shows the iconic Mont-Saint-Michel surrounded by sea at sunrise, during the highest tide of the year
An aerial view shows the iconic Mont-Saint-Michel surrounded by sea at sunrise, during the highest tide of the year on Sept. 11, 2022. Photo by Pascal Rossignol/ Reuters

France has spent more than 32 million euros ($34 million) over 15 years to restore the building, and the work is nearing completion. Authorities have also tried in recent years to protect the monument's surrounding environment from the impact of mass tourism.

Coronavirus lockdown turns iconic Mont Saint-Michel into ghost fortress
A man walks past closed shops and restaurants on the shopping street of the deserted Mont-Saint-Michel in the French western region of Normandy, as a lockdown is imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19 in France on April 17, 2020. Photo by Pascal Rossignol/ Reuters

One of the most popular French destinations outside Paris, Mont-Saint-Michel island attracted 2.8 million visitors last year, including 1.3 million for the abbey. It was not closed to visitors for the presidential visit, but local authorities were taking measures for it to go as smoothly as possible.

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