Bayeux, a small town in France, is the centerpiece for two famous trans-Channel invasions. The conquest of England by William the Conqueror in 1066 started from Bayeux. The Allied D-Day invasion struck the beaches north of this town on June 6th, 1944 and Bayeux was the first French town liberated from Nazi occupation during World War II.
Bayeux will be the best home base for excursions to the many World War II sites in Normandy and there are also a few sites to see in town rich in history.
Created in the late 11th century, the Bayeux Tapestry chronicles the conquest of England by William the Conquerer, Duke of Normandy, in 1066. The Bayeux tapestry has several panels that are numbered and the audioguide will talk you through the scenes while you walk the length of the along the tapestry. The tapestry is 270 feet long and about 20 inches wide made from wool on a linen canvas with elaborate embroidery.
Four things to consider as you look at this Norman Medieval tapestry:
This is a major turning point in English history as it marks the end of the Anglo-Saxon phase of English history and the crowning of the first Norman king of England. French would become the language of the king’s court and would gradually blend with the Anglo-Saxon tongue to become modern English. William I’s reign also was also responsible for the “Domesday Book” the great census of the land and people of England.
The Bayeux Tapestry was created to show the power struggle by two claimants to the English throne after King Edward the Confessor died childless. It was probably commissioned by the House of Normandy and essentially depicts a Norman viewpoint of the battle vindicating the Norman Conquest of England & William as the rightful heir. However, Harold (the defeated English noble with claims to the throne) is shown as brave and his soldiers are not belittled. History is most often written by the victors, justly or unjustly, and it is interesting to see how the defeated is portrayed.
The tapestry, most likely designed by men and created by women, is pretty amazing in terms of the workmanship. The tapestry contains about 50 different scenes and one researcher has counted that there are 632 human figures in it, 202 horse, 55 dogs, 505 other creatures (some clearly mythical beasts), 37 buildings, 41 ships, 49 trees and nearly 2000 Latin letters. It contains scenes include the Channel crossing, the Battle of Hastings (14 October 1066), the death of the Saxon English king Harold and the subsequent coronation of Duke William as King of England and even an appearance of the rare Haley’s Comet.
The survival of this tapestry for almost 1,000 years is nothing short of miraculous. It was created in England and somehow made it to Bayeux in the 14th century. During the French Revolution, in 1792, the tapestry was confiscated as public property to be used for covering military wagons and rescued from a wagon by a local lawyer who stored it in his house. For many years, the tapestry hung in the Bayeux cathedral withstanding time and the elements. In World War II, it was taken by the Gestapo to the German controlled Louvre to be used as propaganda in Hitler’s British invasion. It now resides safely in a temperature controlled Museum for all the enjoy. The Bayeux Tapestry is now considered a UNESCO Memory of the World.
- Scenes: This website has a scene-by-scene detail of the tapestry. The audioguide tour moves pretty quickly so a pre-read might be a good idea is you want to have more detail before the visit.
- Museum: Website – Tickets are only available onsite. I did not encounter crowds and the tour moves fairly quickly. Tickets can be purchased in combo with the Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy. I did not opt for the 2nd museum as I had many other WWII sights lined up.
The site of the Bayeux Cathedral is an ancient one and was once occupied by Roman sanctuaries which can be seen on the grounds in special displays. The present cathedral was consecrated on 14 July 1077 in the presence of William, Duke of Normandy and King of England. It was here that William forced Harold Godwinson to take the oath, the breaking of which led to the Norman conquest of England.
The Bayeux Cathedral towers over the entire town, and is interesting to circle around outside and explore inside. The interior has some excellent views of the architecture, statues and murals.Although a national monument, the Bayeux Cathedral is still a working church and thus open for free but with visiting restricted during services. In summer, the church is often open at night and it is well worth visiting then as the interior is beautifully lit to show the Gothic architecture and reliefs in the best possible light. From around 10 pm to midnight, the cathedral is basked in colorful lights.
The town of Bayeux has all the charm of French villages and its quite remarkable that is was largely untouched by the events of D-Day in 1944. Enjoy some Norman Apple Cider and good food before your begin your expeditions into Normandy.