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Bayeux Travel Guide

Bayeux is an important town in the Bessin area of the French province of Normandy. It is one of the few French towns of the province that has survived the myriad turbulent wars unscathed. Much of the Bayeux’s treasures bequeathed to it by previous generations have been spared destruction. And, of course, Bayeux is a town whose name is inextricably linked to a masterpiece. When people talk about the “Bayeux tapestry”, it is like talking about Avignon’s bridge.[1]

The famous Bayeux tapestry is not actually a tapestry at all, but an embroidered piece of wool and linen cloth. The pious legend goes that Queen Matilda, the Penelope of Normandy, worked with her ladies-in-waiting to embroider piece and recount the tale of her husband, William, and his conquest of England. This legend, however, is false. Odo, William’s half brother and Bayeux’s Bishop was the one who actually commissioned the tapestry in order to decorate his brand-new cathedral. The tapestry was actually pieced together by a Norman or Saxon monastery. [2]

The measurements of the famous tapestry are 76 yards long and 18 inches high. It was restored beautifully and is today displayed gloriously at a museum. The theme of the tale is the keeping of a promise, providing not just a documentary of history but a moral lesson to children.[3]

The original cathedral that the tapestry was supposed to decorate is all but gone. Only the crypt and the West Front towers remain of the building. The Bayeux Cathedral has endured numerous alterations and renovations. The “Bonnet” that stands above the 15th century central tower and its ethereal bays looks rather heavy. It was added to the structure in the 19th century. In contrast, the nave, which looks light and airy, was constructed in the 12th and 13th centuries and provides an excellent example of Norman Romanesque sculpture. The enormous high altar, meanwhile, was constructed by Caffieri in the 18th century. The chancel is a great example of Gothic architecture.[4]

Other attractions in Bayeux include the stone-built and half-timbered houses lined along Quai de l'Aure and Place des Tribunaux. Next to the old watermill, there is a covered market. The Museum of Religious Art and the Bayeux Lace Museum are both located at the Deanery houses. The Baron Gerard Museum located on Place des Tribunaux features Bayeux porcelain and Aubusson tapestries. They also have on display many paintings by Van Dongen, Philippe de Champaigne, among others.[5]

Outside of Bayeux, it’s worth venturing a few miles to Le Molay-Littry, which used to have the only coal mine in Normandy. There, you’ll find a museum that traces the history of the coal mine and pictures and stories about the Norman pit workers.[6]

Another attraction nearby is the Balleroy Castle. This house was designed by Francois Mansart in 1626 and is the first ever country house built. Its exterior exudes an austerity that contrasts sharply with the ornate interior. The house was acquired in 1970 by the rich American publisher, Malcolm Forbes, and he made it a meeting place for travelers who have a passionate for hot-air balloons. The stables house a museum of hot-air and gas-powered balloons. There is also a set of gardens outside that were laid out by Le Notre.[7]

In Noron-la-Poterie, also nearby, potters have been sharpening their craft since the Middle Ages. They work on pitchers, jars, salt-glazed earthenware pots, and other items, many of them finished with dark brown and bronze colors.[8]

The Mondaye Abbey is about six or seven miles south of Bayeux. For eight hundred years, it has served as a place where people go to pray. Its domed church is an excellent example of Norman Classical architecture. Today, the abbey remains home to a community of Cistercians; about forty monks or so spend their days there living an apostolic and contemplative life.[9]

Gaudez, René, Hervé Champollion, and Angela Moyon. Tour of Normandy. Rennes: Éditions Ouest-France, 1996. ISBN: 2737317185.

[1] Gaudez, 32
[2] Id.
[3] Id. at 32-33
[4] Id. at 33
[5] Id. at 33-34
[6] Id. at 34
[7] 34
[8] Id.
[9] Id.

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