Saturday, 26 November 2016

We see the Bayeux Tapestry and Battle of Normandy Museum

Bayeux Cathedral 
Our main reason for choosing the Manoir de l'Abbaye campsite which I blogged about yesterday was so we could visit Bayeux and finally see its famous tapestry. That's not all the town has to offer though and we started by visiting the Notre Dame du Bessin Cathedral, a stately and elegant structure which towers over everything. Inside it is mostly plain stone, but with many gorgeously vivid stained glass windows and an incredibly overblown 17th century pulpit. This is about half way down the cathedral, side on to the pews, and would make the speaker look as though they were preaching from within clouds and surrounded by cherubs. Not a subtle message to the congregation! We were lucky to see a worn, but still clear medieval wall painting which had been uncovered when large furniture in front was removed for restoration. We could also peep into a lower possibly Roman level underground, but couldn't walk around as this was closed off for the winter.

I liked this joiner's shop sign 
Also closed for the winter were the pay machines at the d'Ornano which pleased us. Parking is free here from the end of October until the Spring so we didn't have to pay for that or to enter the Cathedral or to wander around the interesting old streets. There is a trail of some twenty boards which explain aspects of Bayeux history from Roman times until the Second World War. We learned that the Roman town here was called Augustodurum. The massive Roman walls which were originally built to protect against Saxon raids were only abandoned during the eighteenth century and we were able to see a small section that has been preserved.

It was a clear but distinctly chilly day so we took the opportunity to warm up at Le Miette Doree, a tiny sandwicherie on Rue Larcher which was offering Soupe Maison at €3 a bowl. The soup was just what we needed and the coffee here was very good too.

Battle of Normandy Museum diorama 
We bought a dual ticket for the Museum of the Battle of Normandy and the Bayeux Tapestry Musem. This was €12 per person and turned out to be great value although Dave was unimpressed at the lack of seniors discount! The Battle of Normandy museum is huge and has extensive exhibits documenting the Allies invasion and ultimate capture of Normandy over the summer of 1944. I was particularly interested in the old photographs and artifacts. There are models in all the various uniforms, vehicles, guns and shells and a detailed diorama which I managed to get a reasonable photo of. The 25 minute film in the little cinema is very good and included a lot of information which was new to us. Most sobering were the images of absolute destruction. Town after town seemingly reduced to rubble. How did anyone survive?

From one war to another and I am happy to say that The Bayeux Tapestry is as incredible in person as it reputation suggests! There is Absolutely No Photography allowed which is understandable so I have 'borrowed' the image below from the museum website. We had read online the evening before our visit that the Tapestry is only 50cm high so I wondered if we would have another Magna Carta moment (is that it?!). Instead I was amazed! We were given audioguide headsets explaining each of the fifty-odd scenes along the seventy metres of embroidery. I wasn't prepared for there to be so much humour in the work - although it does get pretty gruesome later on. After viewing the Tapestry we also explored the accompanying museum which explained its making and the whole 1066 story in great detail and from the Norman perspective. Perhaps not everything I was told at school was true! This museum also has a very good short film and I loved the tiny models of contemporary landscapes and the full size replica of a Norman boat. I can't imagine trying to cross the Channel effectively in a big canoe - with horses!

Bayeux Tapestry detail 

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