In order to keep an exact remembrance of the Merveille, it is necessary to visit in the following order the two distinct buildings of which it is composed: from the court of the Merveille the visitor enters by the Porch and the Gate which opens at the foot of the tower of the Gorbins he will see the Almonry and the cellar; he should ascend the staircase built in the thickness of the walls, in the south-west angle of the Cellar, and which ends on the first floor; he must observe the Knights’ hall and the Refectory; he must traverse the lateral gallery of the Knights’ hall, which leads by turnings and staircases ending at the Cloister and the Dormitory which form the second floor.
The gigantic constructions, which rise on the north of the church, were called from their origin the Merveille. This immense building, the most beautiful specimen which we have of the religious and military architecture of the middle ages is composed of three floors: the lower one including the Almonry and the Cellar, the intermediate comprising the Refectory and the Knights’ hall; the higher one containing the Refectory and the Cloister.
We must remark that it is formed of two edifices in juxtaposition and joined together, the one looking towards the east and the other towards the west. The former contains the Almonry, the Refectory, and the Dormitory; the latter, i. e. the edifice of the west comprises the Cellar, the Knight’s hall, and the Cloister.
The Merveille was commenced in the XIIIth century, about 1203, and finished in 1228. These splendid edifices built entirely of granite were erected at the same period, on a plan skilfully and powerfully imagined. We must admire this grand masterpiece when we think of the enormous efforts which were necessary to put it into execution so quickly i. e. in twenty-five years, on the side of a steep rock, separated from the continent by a moveable and dangerous shingle. In fact, this situation increased the difficulties of the transportation of the materials which were found in the quarries of the coast and from whence the monks brought the granit necessary to their works. A very small part of these materials was taken from the base of the rock itself; but if the crossing of the shingle was avoided, there were, however, great obstacles in using them after raising them to the fool; of the Merveille, the base of which is more than 50 meters above the mean level of the sea.
Although some differences are to be noticed in the form of the exterior buttresses, resulting from the interior arrangements of the halls, yet it is no less certain that the two edifices composing the Merveille were planned and built at the same time. To be convinced of it, it is sufficient to study on the plans the sections and the façades, their general bearings, and first of all the singular arrangement of the staircase built in the thickness of the buttress, at the point where these two buildings are joined together and crowned by a little octagonal tower; this staircase begins in the Almonry, ends in the Dormitory and the battlement above.
After these remarks and the position of the edifices having been explained, we continue their description, not in the order in which they were built, but in that which we have already stated.