Bayeux is a town on the Aure River, in the Departement of
Calvados, not far from the English Channel. It is located 16 miles west-northwest of
Caen on Route National 13, at its juncture with D572 and D6. It is 166 miles northwest of
The site was first known as Baiocasses to the Gauls. To the Romans, it was first known as Augustodurum. Subsequently, as an important Roman city, it was called Civitas Baiocassium.
In the 4th century Bayeux became a bishopric. Rollo, the Viking, captured the town in 880. Subsequently, it became a Norman stronghold. In 1106, Henry I of England pillaged the town. During
the Hundred Years’ War, from 1337 to 1453, and during the Wars of Religion, from 1562 to 1598, the town was besieged and taken various times.
The Germans occupied Bayeux in 1940. The Allies took the town on the day after D-Day, June 7, 1944. It was the first town liberated, and it was the first to greet General de Gaulle on his return to France, June 14, 1944. On June 16, de Gaulle set out, in a broadcast speech to the French people, his principles for a new constitution.
Although Bayeux is only a short distance behind the D-Day invasion beaches of Omaha and Gold, it was spared a bombardment. Today, it is a sleepy, small town with cobblestone streets lined with small shops and Norman style timbered houses dating from the 17th century.
Bayeux’s 13th through 19th century Gothic Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Bayeux is in the town’s center. It has 11th century Romanesque towers, a groin-vaulted crypt, which is decorated with 15th century frescos of angles, and lower nave.
The City Hall [Hotel-de-Ville] was once the 11th through 14th century Bishop’s Palace. A museum and the law courts are housed in the Hotel-de-Ville. The Musée de la Reine Mathilde displays the Bayeux Tapestry. This large embroidery tells the story of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066.
The medieval Tapestry [Tapisserie de la Reine Mathilde] is probably the world’s most famous embroidery. It is remarkable both as a source of 11th century history and as a work of art. It is an invaluable historical representation of the arms, costumes, manners and ships used by the Normans prior to the invasion.
The Tapestry is 231 feet long and 19.5 inches wide. It was made of a seamless strip of linen, embroidered with 8 colors of woolen thread. It is a needlework panorama of 72 scenes, and 1512 figures [with identifying Latin inscriptions], of the Norman Conquest. It tells of Harold’s failure to honor the oath, he gave at Bayeux recognizing his cousin William’s right to succeed Edward the Confessor, and its consequences. The borders are decorated with animals and scenes taken from fables. It was probably made in England soon after the conquest. But, it wasn’t used until about 1476, when it decorated the nave of the Bayeux Cathedral.
Some believe that the tapestry was the work of
William the Conqueror’s wife Matilda of Flanders. However, her involvement with the Tapestry is in doubt. Others believe that it was commissioned by Odo, the bishop of Bayeux and half brother of William. Odo is depicted in some of the latter scenes. The work is dated no latter than 1092.
Across from the cemetery is the Musée Memorial de la Bataille de Normandie. The museum houses the story of the Battle of Normandy that took place between June 6 and August 22, 1944.
Bayeux products include dairy foods, lace, plastics and pottery.
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The capital of the
Calvados Departement and of the region of
Basse-Normandie is Caen. It is located on the Orne River, 9 miles from the Channel, within an agricultural region. The city is 51 miles southwest of
Le Havre, 63 miles east-southeast of Cherbourg, 60 miles west-southwest of
Rouen and 147 miles west-northwest of
Paris. It is at the juncture of the Autoroute A13 and Routes National 13, 175 and 158 and D562.
The area, of which Caen is a part, was invaded by the Norsemen during the 9th and 10th centuries. In the 10th century, Caen first became important under the dukes of Normandy. It was
William the Conqueror’s favorite city in the 11th century. During
the Hundred Years’ War, 1337 through 1453, the English, under Edward III, captured the city in 1346. The English again occupied the city, led by Henry VI, from 1417 to 1450. During the occupation, in 1432, Henry VI of England established a
university in the city.
Following the revocation of the
Edict of Nantes, in 1685, the Protestant city’s prosperity plummeted with the emigration of its populace. During the French Revolution [1789 to 1799], Caen was the focal point for the anti-Revolutionary Girondist movement.
In about 1050, William the Conqueror and Matilda of
Flanders were married. Because they were distant cousins, the pope excommunicated them. In 1059 they managed to ‘atone’ for their sin by each founding an abbey. The late 11th century austere Norman Romanesque Church of Saint-Étienne, at the Abbaye-aux-Hommes [on the east side of Caen], was founded by William. His tomb is located there. The Norman Romanesque Church of La Trinité, at the Abbaye-aux-Dames on the west side of the city], was founded by Matilda. Her tomb is located there. Both structures were unscathed by the war.
Both abbeys are beautiful structures done in the Norman Romanesque style, and both were constructed of ‘Caen stone’, a light creamy-yellow Jurassic limestone. This stone was also a popular building material with the Normans in England.
The château-fort that overlooks the city was built by William in 1060. The Romanesque Church of Saint-Étienne, which was started in 1066, was also constructed using ‘Caen stone’. It has two, 295 foot towers. The towers are topped by 13th century octagonal spires. The church’s lantern-tower is considered a masterpiece.
The Church of Saint-Pierre is principally of Gothic design with French Renaissance embellishments. It is located at the southern base of the château, between the churches of Saint-Étienne and La Trinité.
In the 19th century, a 9 mile long ship canal was constructed between the city and the English Channel at Ouistreham.
During the Battle of Normandy, June 6 to August 22, 1944, Caen became the center of German resistance to the Allies. During the British-Canadian advance, over two-thirds of the city was destroyed.
In 1957, the
University of Caen was reopened at a new site. The city also has several noteworthy trade schools.
The city’s products include automobiles, electrical appliances, electronics, gloves, lace, steel [that is exported via the canal] made of iron-ore from the nearby Orne Valley, and textiles.
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