Friday, April 24, 2020

Bayeux, France: From William the Conqueror to D-Day

Evening shrouds the twin-spired Bayeux Cathedral 
(Courtesy: pxhere)
BAYEUX, FRANCE – One of the best things about Bayeux, France is that it has something for just about anyone. Though it traces its history as far back as the 1st century BC, Bayeux becomes most interesting about a thousand years later during the time of William the Conqueror.

William the Conqueror
(Courtesy: bayeux tourism)

Situated slightly more than four miles from the shores of the English Channel, Bayeux has the distinction of being one of the first cities to be liberated during the Battle of Normandy in 1944.

With the Germans defending Caen, about 19 miles to the southeast, Bayeux was relatively untouched during the D-Day invasion while Caen was completely demolished.

Ten days after the D-Day assault, Charles DeGaulle made the first of two major speeches in Bayeux in which France declared its allegiance to the allies.

Battle of Hastings (1066) re-enactment
(Courtesy: Poliphilo --Public Domain) )
It was during the 11th century that Bayeux came into its own with five villages arising beyond the walls of the city.

William the Conqueror, who was known as William the Bastard until winning the Battle of Hastings in 1066, became king of England on Christmas Day at Westminster Abbey in the same year.

Slightly more than a decade later, in 1077, William's half brother Odo, Earl of Kent, completed the Romanesque Bayeux Cathedral, an event which King William attended.

Bayeux Tapestry
(Courtesy: Bayeux Tapestry)
Soon however, Bayeux began to lose its prominence after William made his capital in Caen.

Among the artifacts in Bayeux is an embroidery depicting the Battle of Hastings featuring over 50 scenes in a single piece of cloth that is roughly 230 feet long and 20 inches high. Only a couple of scenes at the far end have been lost over the centuries.

The "Bayeux Tapetry", as it is called, is believed to have been woven in England as a display around the interior perimeter of Odo's cathedral.

The "tapestry" offers a wealth of information about
life in the 11th century
(Courtesy: Bayeux Tapestry)
Though somewhat cartoonish in its appearance, the fact that so much of the tapestry has remained intact for a thousand years is nothing short of a miracle. The details of the story offer a priceless depiction of the life and times of medieval England and France including elements of battle, strategy, clothing and weaponry among others.

Though William was French, many analysts believe the tapestry was created by English artisans. Nevertheless, the storyline is clearly from the perspective of  the French.

Today, the tapestry is housed in the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux just down the street from the cathedral.

German artillery still faces
(Photo: peabod)
Day trips to the D-Day landing beaches are easily done from Bayeux. On clear days, the cathedral spires of Bayeux can be seen from the rolling countryside of Longues sur Mer. For visitors, Longues sur Mer is one of the best places along the Normandy coast to view the massive German bunker emplacements that still face the English Channel and, of course, England.

Strolling through the area, it is difficult to imagine that this now peacefully serene landscape has been the site of so much turmoil over the past millennium.

Entering Bayeux from Caen at the first roundabout in the city, travelers pass a statue of Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower, commander of the allied forces on D-Day.

Gen. Eisenhower is the first to greet visitors to Bayeux
(Courtesy: normandy war guide)
The statue is cast in bronze and is the creation of sculptor Robert Dean. The site was dedicated on June 5, 1994, during the 50th anniversary of D-Day.

As a side note, an identical statue also stands outside the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square in London.

Today the city of Bayeux proudly pays for the upkeep of the statue that was initially commissioned by the Battle of Normandy Foundation.

Filled with dozens of narrow streets and pleasant outdoor cafes, Bayeux is an ideal place for a day trip in Normandy or to use as a base thanks to its proximity to so many other historic sites.

The Old Mill
(Courtesy: peabod)
Best of all for shoppers, Bayeux is filled with quaint boutiques featuring fashions, souvenirs and antiques that rival almost anything in Paris.

Bayeux, France is more than a place to merely drive through en route to another destination. Take time to discovery its half-timbered architecture and delightful restaurants. Stop in and try a croque monsieur, a specialty of the region consisting of baked or fried ham and cheese on toasted French bread.

Bayeux is an undiscovered medieval gem
(Courtesy: Anton Bielousov --licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0
Unported license )
In French, croque monsieur means "gentleman crunch" but it's a sure thing that the ladies will enjoy it as well.

And while you're at it, sip a glass of Calvados, the lethal regional drink made from apples. The operative word being "sip."

Bayeux, France may not be on the tip of your tongue right now, but once you visit, you won't soon forget it.