Bayeux City, France: History, museums and Notre Dame Cathedral

Bayeux City

Bayeux is a small town in Normandy, the main attraction of which is a unique tapestry from the 11th century, listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Tourists can also be interested in the Cathedral, the Museum of the Normandy Operation and old watermills on the canals of the city.

Bayeux is located about 10 km from the English Channel. It is probably easiest to get here by car. The local parking lot is in front of the administration building.

Bayeux sights

Bayeux – this is one of the few settlements, which were not damaged during the Second World War. It has a beautifully preserved historic center with medieval buildings. If you walk through the narrow streets of this cozy, charming town, we will see old mansions with towers and picturesque half-timbered houses (frame houses made of wood) and, of course, its main attractions.

Tapisserie de Bayeux

Every year tourists from many countries come to Bayeux to admire its unusual tapestry, a work of art nearly 1,000 years old. Bayeux Tapestry tells the story of how William II, Duke of Normandy conquered England in 1066.

The medieval rug is an embroidery with wool threads on a linen cloth, representing the story of this campaign. The tapestry is almost 70 meters long and 50 centimeters high. In fact, it is a noteworthy and the only historical document in the world in the form of embroidery.

The Bayeux Tapestry has been on display at the Tapestry Museum since 1983.

What the Bayeux Tapestry tells us

According to historians, the Bayeux Tapestry was commissioned in 1077 by William’s stepbrother, Bishop Odon, to adorn the new cathedral. What does the masterpiece of Romanesque art tell about?

The narrative begins with a description of the events of 1064, when King Edward the Confessor of England instructs Harold, Earl of East Anglia and Wessex, to travel to Normandy to offer William the English throne. (Edward the Confessor, because of his commitment to asceticism, had no children.)

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Harold’s ship crosses the English Channel, and King Edward’s message to William was delivered. Before returning to England, to the old king, Harold swore an oath of allegiance to William on the relics of Bayeux Cathedral. After Edward’s death, however, the English nobility chose him to be King of England, and Harold agreed.

At this news, William resolved to reclaim his throne, and on the night of September 28 crossed the Channel with his fleet.

On the morning of October 14, 1066, the Battle of Hastings broke out between William’s army and Harold’s men. It was a decisive battle, in which William’s army won. The mainstream version is that Harold dies from an arrow that accidentally strikes his eye. Some historians, however, analyzing the scene in the Bayeux tapestry, believe that death may have been caused by a blow from a sword or spear.

Thus the Anglo-Saxon state was conquered by the Normans. William was crowned king of England in December 1066 in Westminster Abbey.

The tapestry depicts 58 scenes, of which 25 take place in France and 33 in England (within present-day borders). Ten scenes are dedicated to the battle of Hastings.

Nine linen canvases are assembled into a single 68.58-meter-long canvas. Ten colors of wool yarn are used to depict scenes with a perspective effect. The Bayeux Tapestry features 626 characters, 37 buildings including Mont Saint-Michel, 41 ships, 202 horses and mules, and fifty dogs. Also depicted on the tapestry is the “star with hair” that is Halley’s Comet. This is believed to be the very first depiction of this comet.

It was originally thought that the carpet was embroidered by William the Conqueror’s wife, Queen Matilda. Now the hypothesis that the carpet was created by 2-3 middle-aged female embroiderers is recognized.

To better understand the content of all the scenes and hear the beautiful soundtrack, we recommend taking an audio guide (available in Russian).

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Notre Dame de Bayeux Cathedral

In the heart of the medieval city the cathedral is a prime example of Norman Gothic architecture. It is beautifully preserved, although the temple is almost 10 centuries old.

Bayeux Cathedral was built on the site of a Romanesque church of the 11th century. It was consecrated in 1077 by Bishop Odon de Contville in the presence of his brother, William the Conqueror. It was to adorn the nave of the cathedral that Odon commissioned the famous Bayeux tapestry recounting William’s conquest of England in 1066.

Much of the construction of the church was done in the 1230s and 1270s. The Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary contains Romanesque and Gothic features in its architecture. The architects incorporated the old Romanesque crypt, the nave vaults and the lower part of the portal towers into the Gothic structure. The central tower of the cathedral was built in the 15th century and the copper-covered dome in 1860.

In the courtyard of the cathedral you can see the old thousand-year-old sycamore tree.

Bayeux Cathedral opening hours

Bayeux Cathedral is open daily for free visits by tourists (except during services):

  • January 1 to March 31 – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • April 1st to June 30th: 8:30 am to 6:00 pm
  • From July 1 to September 30 – from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • October 1 to December 31 – 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Tours of the cathedral with visits to the Treasure Room and the Chapter Room are available.

Normandy Operation Memorial Museum

Bayeux is the first city liberated by the Allies during World War II. On June 7, 1944, the day after the start of the operation, the Allies of the 56th British Infantry Division entered here and took the city.

The events of June 1944 are also reminded of the military cemetery.

The museum is located on the outskirts of the old town. Its collection includes military equipment, trucks, a D7 helicopter, a Willy jeep, weapons, as well as military uniforms of various army corps.

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Baron Gérard Museum of Art and History

Visit the Baron Gérard Museum of Arts and History to learn about the history of Bayeux from Gaulish times to the present. On display are archaeological and interior objects, paintings, woven and porcelain objects.

Bayeux Botanical Gardens

The Bayeux Botanical Gardens are one of the most beautiful landscape parks in Normandy, recognized as a historic monument. The garden is small but very well maintained.

Here you can walk and relax in the shade of trees. For children there is a playground with original swings.

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