Magical Places: Mont-Saint-Michel

Castle and monastery, church and fortress, Mont-Saint-Michel in northern France has been a bit of everything over its thousand-year plus history. Which is what makes it perfect material for a post here on the blog, where I seek to find magic everyday.

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Mont-Saint-Michel at Sunset

I’ve mentioned it before, but I love ancient castles and churches. My Instagram is loaded with gorgeous pictures of them because they stir my imagination and tell so many stories.

 

I visited Mont-Saint-Michel when I was a young naive teenager. At the time, it was just another wonderful place to visit in a series of interesting places I’d been on a long trip through France. Looking back, I wished I had taken more time to soak in the history. I’m making up for that now.

The earliest history of the island extends back to the 8th century, when the island was called Mont Tombe. “Tombe” meaning grave in Latin evokes the feeling of a graveyard or a final resting place. There is a secondary, and far more fitting, translation as “mount hillock” meaning a raised place. For anyone who has visited the island, it fits this description well. From base to tip, the island rises over 260 feet out of the ocean, and all of it rocky unforgiving granite. I remember my legs burning as we trekked up the steep streets toward the monastery.

According to legend, in 708 AD Archangel Michael appeared to Aubery, bishop of Avranches, and instructed him to build a church in the Archangel’s honor. The bishop repeatedly ignored this heavenly visitor, a truly bad idea, until Saint Michael burned a hole into the bishop’s skull with his finger. The church was built October 16, 709 and devoted to Saint Michael. Mont-Saint-Michel literally means “Saint Michael Mount.”

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Saint Michael Iconography

The location of the island is unique as it historically it could only be reached during low tide and was surrounded by silty sand that was prone to becoming quicksand. This made the island easy to defend as the assailants couldn’t continue their fight for risk of drowning.

 

It was also halfway between the two power Duchies of Normandy and Brittany during the early Middle Ages, which made it the target of the two powers and through the ages it changed hands frequently. At one point it was invaded by Vikings.

Fast forward to 1204, the Breton Guy de Thouars, an ally to the King of France, tried to take the island in a siege. In the process, he accidentally set the main buildings of the monastery on fire, destroying the very same buildings he wanted to occupy. The King of France at the time, Philip Augustus, or Philip II, was horrified that a holy site was damaged in connection to him and offered funds for a major restoration and expansion which included many of the Gothic style buildings we see today.

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Courtyard with Gothic arches

Throughout the following hundreds of years the island continued to be an area of dispute. Each successive conqueror added and destroyed parts of the island’s structures until we reach the present day. For more history, there are references below.

 

Modern day Mont-Saint-Michel can be reached by a long bridge built specially to allow the flow of tidewater underneath. Thrill seekers are still allowed to approach over the sand during low tide, however there are signs everywhere warning of the dangers of quicksand.

Do you have a favorite castle or magical place? Share about it in the comments below and I might do a feature on it in the future.

References:

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Update

I swear I’m not teasing you about doing a cover reveal. It will happen, and it looks like it might be by next week’s post. This week we pinned down a few more needed pieces to create the advance review copies for distribution. If you love reading epic fantasy, and even better, love giving reviews, please send me a note!

Also, I’ll be at the Eagle Mountain Writing Conference this weekend. If you are there, come say hi!

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Fantasy In Real Life: Tree Cathdral, Bergamo

The Fantasy in Real Life series is dedicated to showcasing the weird and wonderful creations and natural phenomenon that occur around the world. This week we visit Bergamo, a city in Lombardy, Italy. Located just 25 miles northeast of Milan, Bergamo can be considered part of the greater Milan metropolitan area. To the north are the foothills of the Bergamo Alps.

As an ancient city, there are plenty of cathedrals and other examples of medieval architecture in Bergamo, but today we are going to focus on something new.

imageThe tree cathedral was the brain child of Italian artist, Giuliano Mauri, and is touted as one of the world’s most impressive examples of organic architecture. A lover of nature, Mauri created the original plans in 2001. Sadly, he died in 2009 before the work could be realized.

In 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity, Mauri’s plans were put into action as a tribute to his life’s work. 42 beech trees were planted to form a basilica of five aisles will grow into the supporting columns. These beeches are supported by fir poles and branches of hazelnut and chestnut that have been woven together. These will be allowed to deteriorate as the beech trees grow larger. image (1)

Additional resources and articles about the Tree Cathedral:

Fantasy in Real Life: Bridge of Immortals, Huangshan, China

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Huangshan, literally translated as “yellow mountains,” are an epic range of steep jagged granite peaks nestled in eastern China. It is one of China’s major tourist attractions and is often a subject of traditional Chinese paintings and literature, as well as modern photography.

It is not, however, for the faint of heart.  Many of the foot paths wander along high steep cliffs, and there is even a section that must be traversed by walking across narrow planks while gripping a chain anchored into the rock. But the pay out is worth it. The tops of the peaks look out over an amazing landscape above a sea of clouds.

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It is rumored that James Cameron found his inspiration for the landscape in his movie Avatar from a visit to the Huangshan.

The Bridge of Immortals is the world’s highest bridge, putting visitors above the clouds. It leads to a cave carved deep into the rock. Part of the lore around the mountains is that the Yellow Emperor. Emperor Xuanyuan, the legendary founder of the Chinese nation and ancestor to the nationalities of the central plains, attained enlightenment there and became immortal.

To learn more about Huangshan, and the Bridge of Immortals check out these links:

To see more of the Fantasy in Real Life series, click here!

Fantasy in Real Life: Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco

Image credit: Wearableworldnews.com

Image credit: Wearableworldnews.com

The Palace of Fine Arts is one of the few sights of the Fantasy in Real Life Series that I’ve actually visited.  Located in the marina district of San Francisco, this stunning structure is a magnet for photographers and artists alike.

The Palace was originally built as a part of the Panama-Pacific Exhibition, a world fair that ran from February 20th to December 4th in 1915. This particular fair was to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal and also showcase San Francisco’s recovery from the 1906 earthquake.

The Palace of Fine Arts was one of ten separate palaces that dotted the over 600 acre exhibition, the other nine palaces were for education, liberal arts, manufactures, varied industries, agriculture, food products, transportation, mines and metallurgy, and machinery.

The exhibition was not built to last, the Palace of Fine Arts was built primarily of wood and then covered with a mixture of plaster and burlap-type fiber.  The original intention was for all the palaces to be torn down at the end of the fair, but the Palace of Fine Arts was so popular that the Palace Preservation League was formed before the end of the fair.

Despite their best efforts, the Palace fell into ruin and fell to vandalism.  In 1964 the original Palace was torn down save the steel structure of the exhibit hall, and rebuilt using newer more durable materials, like lightweight poured-in-place concrete. In 1969, the exhibit hall became home to the interactive museum, the Exploratorium.

To learn more about the Palace of Fine arts, check out these links below:

For more of the Fantasy In Real LIfe Series, Click here!

Fantasy in Real Life – The Hill Giant, Austria

hillgiantaustriaIn the small town of Wattens; located in Tyrol, Austria; is the world famous Swarovski Crystal factory. In 1995 they had their 100th anniversary and to celebrate they commissioned Viennese artist Andre Heller to design a series of unique attractions designed to please crystal lovers around the world.

To enter the “Kristallwelten” one must pass the eye catching Hill Giant that marks the entrance. His eyes are none other than large crystals and a waterfall flows from his mouth. The Hill giant was constructed in 1983.  Inside the Kristallwelten you can find the “Wunderkammern” (or “Cabinets of Marvel”) where each of the artists involved in the project has their own installment.

Later, in 2003, the Kristallwelten was expanded to include several other attractions including a 3D projection “Planet der Kristalle”, the “Kristalldom” (or “Crystal Cupola”), and the giant kaleidoscope filled with healing crystals, the “Kristalloskop”. Outside there is a maze in the shape of a hand

Related sites:

Travel Spotting: The Hill Giant, Austria

Swarovski Kristallwelten

Fantasy in Real Life: ‘Becoming’ by Ted Metz

There is a stunning piece of sculpture at the University of Montevallo created by Ted Metz, an art professor, and forty of his students.  The piece, entitled “Becoming” is explained in a UM brochure in these terms:

“The younger hand, that of the student, reaches skyward. It’s pose and size suggest the potential for continuous growth and development.

The more mature hand, that of the teacher, appears to have been guiding the student’s hand but has now fallen back, representing a new role of support for the student.

The space separating the hands represents the student’s graduation, the event when the student takes what he as learned into the next phase of life.”

The sculpture was dedicated on February 15, 2003 on the UM campus opposite Bowers Colonnade on the corner of the King House quad.

Related articles:

UM Campus Tour Brochure

Shelby County Reporter: ‘Becoming’ sculpture dedicated at UM

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Fantasy in Real Life: The Kelpies

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The Kelpies are 30 meter tall (nearly 100 feet) horse head sculptures in Falkirk, Scotland and were finished in October of 2013. They opened to the public in April of this year. They commemorate the completion of a new extension to the Forth and Clyde Canal.

Historically, Kelpies are mythological water creatures that have inhabited Scotland’s waterways and lochs for thousands of years. They can appear in many forms, including human, but are most commonly associated with horses and are said to have the strength and endurance of 10 horses.

In the Falkirk area horses have played a major role in the economy and industry and were used to pull the wagons, ploughs, barges, and coalships along the canals. The sculptures pay homage to this heritage.

From the Wikipedia entry:

According to sculptor Andy Scott “The original concept of mythical water horses was a valid starting point for the artistic development of the structures.”[7] “I took that concept and moved with it towards a more equine and contemporary response, shifting from any mythological references towards a socio-historical monument intended to celebrate the horse’s role in industry and agriculture as well as the obvious association with the canals as tow horses.”[8] 

According to Scott the end result would be “Water-borne, towering gateways into The Helix, the Forth & Clyde Canal and Scotland, translating the legacy of the area into proud equine guardians.”[7]

Read more about the Kelpies:

Speculative Fiction with Shia Labeouf

It’s no surprise that I love YouTube and pop culture.  So, when I found this awesome little piece – just in time for Halloween I might add – I knew I had to share it.

Speculative fiction is when a story has one or more elements that aren’t considered part of the real world including magic, fantasy creatures, and unreal settings.  It includes such genres as horror, fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, and yes, even vampire romances.

Since Shia isn’t an actual cannibal, as far as we know, this lovely piece of internet is a solid horror story instead of a factual recounting. It is also the most bizarre thing I’ve seen all year, and that’s saying something.

Fantasy in Real Life: Cleopatra’s Kingdom

Cleopatra's kingdom

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Deep in the Mediterranean Sea is a treasure trove of ancient Egyptian artifacts. So far over 20,000 objects have been found, giving archaeologists clues to Egypt’s intriguing past.

Some of the most interesting discoveries found at the site of Alexandria, Egypt’s ancient capital, are those pertaining to Cleopatra. Royal quarters, including a palace and temple complex were discovered under the waves. These are findings that were thought to have been lost over 1,600 years ago.  These discoveries give us a better understanding of one of Egypt’s most iconic (thanks to Elizabeth Taylor) females.

Ideas for an underwater museum are in the works where scuba divers can dive and experience a the magic of this lost era.

Learn more:

National Geographic

The New York Times

The Telegraph

Fantasy in real life: Hand of Harmony

Hand of Harmony

This is the Hand of Harmony rising from the beach at Homigot, Korea. Up on the shoreline there is the other hand making a matched set. The palms face each other symbolizing harmony and unity. The sea side hand marks the easternmost tip of Korea, also referred to as the tiger’s tail, and is said to be an obscure tourist trap, especially photographers.  Every year they have a huge New’s Years festival here and release thousands of balloons symbolizing the hope and dreams of the new year and serve ddeokguk (rice-cake soup) to the hungry masses.

Photo from: http://www.premier-holidays.com/