The origin of the village or rather, according to tradition, of the town of Mont Saint-Michel, is very old, if we believe the chroniclers, who tell this it was in the tenth century, as we have seen in the historical notice. The small borough had the same destiny as the Monastery at the foot of which its houses were grouped on escarpments of rock on the east, which formed a natural defense against the encroachments of the sea and attacks of men. It increased continually strengthened on its weak parts by palisades and at the time of the rebuilding of the Edifices of the Abbey, from the thirteenth to the fourteenth century, it was likewise surrounded by strong walls forming the first fortified enclosure of the Monastery.
The town enlarged in the fifteenth century and surrounded, from 1415 to 1420, by a wall extending more on the east and on the south than elsewhere, has only one entrance opening to the south, on the west side of its ramparts, the gate of which is preceded by works covering its approaches. After passing through the narrow passages of the Avancée and of the Barbican, we reach the principal gate, the King’s gate, which leads us to the town.
The only street of the town has on each side houses some of which are still as they probably were in the middle ages. They do not offer anything very curious in their details; however, by their union and their arrangement, they form a picturesque whole.
There still exists in the high part of the town some traces of the primitive constructions retaining romanesque forms of the twelfth and thirteenth century; they are the remnants of the old town built on the most elevated part of the rock on the east of the Abbey or, according to some historians, the ruins of a convent for women, restored, it is said by Duguesclin, and near which he wished a “Beau Logis” to be built which his wife Tiphaine de Raguenel inhabited from 1366 to 1374, during her sojourn at Mont Saint-Michel. The houses of the lower part of the town and those of the southern watershed were not built at a later date than the fifteenth century. The country church, built about 1440, has nothing remarkable but a tombstone of older date than its foundation.
The town has always been inhabited by fishermen: but the greatest part of the dwellings of the old town and of the new one have always been as they are now, hostelries for pilgrims or shops.
The archaeologists give us curious information about several of the old hostelries, among them, the inn which is before the watchtower; this was the Tête D’or, very fashionable in the seventeenth century. It was called successively Hotel of the Tête d’Or and of Saint-Michel and became afterwards the hotel Poulard keeping however its reputation, for it is still the best hostelry in the town.
The street of the small town follows very nearly the line of the walls and is on a level with the entrance till it reaches the tower, named Liberty’s tower, it then rises quickly, winds about on the north on the slopes of the rock and ends by large flights of steps on the east, at the place where formerly rose the first gate of the Grand Degré leading to the Barbican from the Chatelet.
Some very narrow lanes ascending the rock lead to the gardens in terraces or to the highest houses and end by turning to the exterior walls and to the Postern of the south staircase of the Barbican of the Chêtelet protecting the entrance of the Abbey.