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The Abbaye aux Hommes is an 11th century Romanesque abbey church in Caen, Normandy, known for being William the Conqueror’s gravesite.
The Abbaye aux Hommes in Caen, also known as the Abbey of Saint-Étienne, is a beautiful 11th century Romanesque abbey church known for being William the Conqueror’s gravesite.
Consecrated in 1077, William built the Abbaye aux Hommes as atonement for his marriage to Matilda of Flanders, which the Pope had condemned due to their family connection. In 1087, upon his death, William was buried in the foundations. However his grave has been disturbed on multiple occasions, including during the Wars of Religion and later the French Revolution when his remains were scattered, resulting in only his thighbone remaining in the marked grave.
Through the centuries, the Abbaye aux Hommes has undergone many architectural renovations. The main abbey is made up of the original Romanesque nave and transept and the 13th century Gothic choir. A ribbed vault was added around 1120, making the abbey a forerunner of the Gothic architectural style, and the nine spires were a 13th century addition. Further additions occurred right up until the late 18th century. However, despite the many changes, much of the original Norman church remains and forms the core of what visitors see today.
The abbey buildings lead off from the south end of the church, including the refectory; they now house the town’s museum and municipal offices. Impressive features of the church and grounds include the grand staircases, designed without cement to seem as if they are floating, the ceremonial ‘Salle des Gardes’ room and the large collection of 17th and 18th century art and furniture gathered in the monastery.
One of the abbey’s most distinctive features is the white Caen stone it is carved from, this same stone was taken to Britain to build the Tower of London, Canterbury Cathedral and the abbeys of Durham, Norwich and Westminster. The abbey itself was used a model for many Norman churches built throughout England, making it a must-see for those interested in both French architecture and Britain’s Norman history.
The church is open to all visitors but taking a guided tour is recommended in order to fully appreciate all of the buildings incorporated into the church. These tours are available in French and English (although English-speaking tours will be filled quickly!) four times a day.
Contributed by Isabelle Moore
The Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum traces the events of this famous World War II battle.
The Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum or ‘Musee Memorial de la Bataille de Normandie’ in Bayeux tells of the story of the World War II battle which loosened Germany’s grasp on Europe and paved the way for an allied victory.
Taking a chronological approach, the Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum begins in the period prior to the initial assault, through to the infamous Normandy Landings on D-Day up to 29 August 1944. Displaying military objects from the time, including weaponry and uniforms, the Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum offers an overview of the battle and an insight into the events, including a 25 minute film.
A visit to the Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum usually lasts around 1.5 hours.
The Big Red One Assault Museum looks at the history of the US First Infantry Division in World War II.
The Big Red One Assault Museum in Normandy is dedicated to the efforts of the US First Infantry Division, nicknamed the Big Red One, particularly their part in the D-Day Landings on 6 June 1944.
The Big Red One division were part of the infamous landing at Omaha Beach where, despite the difficulties encountered, they together with the 29th division went on to secure the areas around Saint-Laurent, Vierville and Colleville.
The Big Red One Assault Museum chronicles this assault, including a film about its events. An hour-long guided tour is available upon request in English and French.
One of the oldest Norman castles in existence, the Chateau de Pirou is picturesque, small and yet well-fortified.
The picturesque Chateau de Pirou in Normandy is one of the oldest Norman castles in existence and is now a popular attraction.
The site has been occupied since the 9th century, although at that time it was a wooden construction and was updated to stone in the 12th century. It was built to defend the nearby harbour.
Surrounded by a moat, with granite towers and turrets, and defended by five gates, Chateau de Pirou is simply a wonderful building, constructed just as we might imagine a fortified castle would be built. It was built by the Lords of Pirou, one of whom found favour with William the Conqueror during the Battle of Hastings, and was rewarded with an estate in Somerset.
The Chateau is famous for a legend that is as old as the castle itself. Under siege from Viking invaders, the inhabitants were at a loss for how to resolve their situation. At one stage, the Vikings were surprised by the silence that had fallen over the Chateau. After waiting for a day, the invaders scaled the walls, and were confronted by an empty castle, save for an old man in bed. They promised to spare the old man's life in return for learning of how the castle's inhabitants had escaped. They were told that the family living at the castle had used spells from a book of magic, to transform themselves into geese and flown to safety. The Vikings had indeed recalled geese flying overhead the previous day. The castle was burned to the ground, and the geese were unable to recover the book to reverse the spell. Each year, the geese return to the castle in the hope of finding the book again.
During the Hundred Years War, Pirou came under siege numerous times, and ownership of the castle changed on many occasions. One inhabitant of note was the knight Jehan Falstolf, who was renowned for his bravery, and possibly served as the inspiration for Shakespeare's character Falstaff. Although Pirou was spared demolition during the French Revolution, its buildings were used as barns. The Chateau began to fall into disrepair until restoration work was undertaken in 1968, and Pirou is now privately owned.
On entering the Chateau, one must proceed through four gates, before walking around the castle and proceeding through the fifth and final gate. Entrance into Pirou is across an arched stone bridge, which replaced the drawbridge in the 17th century.
In the lower courtyard there is an 18th century bakery, a cider press building, Saint Laurent's chapel and the Salle des Plaids. The Chapel contains a wonderful 15th century altar, and statues of St John the Baptist and Saint Laurent. The guardhouse, complete with large fireplace, is also well worth a visit.
The Salle des Plaids was converted into a barn during the Revolution, but formerly had housed the justice room, which the Lords of Pirou occupied to collect taxes and solve disputes. It has now been restored, and contains one of the highlights of Pirou - the Pirou tapestry. At 58 metres in length, the tapestry is in the style of the Bayeux tapestry and tells of the Norman invasion of Sicily and the conquest of southern Italy. It is possible to walk up to the ramparts and walk along the castle walls, and this provides excellent views.
Contributed by Chris Reid
The Gold Beach Museum tells the story of one of the D-Day Landings.
The Gold Beach Museum, known as Musee America - Gold Beach, chronicles the landings of the 69th Brigade of the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division in Normandy on 6 June 1944 – D-Day - as part of Operation Gold Beach.
Led by Major General Douglas Alexander Graham and supported by the 79th (Armoured) Division, these troops succeeded in storming one of the central beaches of the Normandy Landings.
The Gold Beach Museum tells the story of this victorious attack as well as the intelligence operation behind it. Guided tours of the Gold Beach Museum are available, but must be booked in advance for an added fee.
Le Memorial at Caen is a history museum dedicated to World War Two and other conflicts.
Le Memorial at Caen is a museum of history based in northern France, not too far from the locations of the beaches where the Normandy Landings took place. Le Memorial at Caen explores the events which led up to the Normandy Landings of World War II, the Landings themselves, also known as D-Day, and the aftermath.
Le Memorial at Caen also offers day trips and longer guided tours around the sites of the Normandy Landings, which start at Caen Railway Station. Beyond its Second World War exhibits, Le Memorial at Caen also looks at the Cold War and beyond, exploring the concept of peace in the context of different conflicts.
The Longues-sur-Mer Gun Battery was a World War II German defensive battery.
The Longues-sur-Mer Gun Battery, also known as ‘Batterie Allemande’, was a German defensive battery in Normandy which played a big part in the German defence efforts during the Normandy Landings on D-Day, 6 June 1944.
Made up of four 150mm guns, the Longues-sur-Mer Gun Battery is located between the vital allied landing beaches of Gold and Omaha. It was captured by the British 231st Division.
Today, the Longues-sur-Mer Gun Battery is open to the public.
An imposing rocky outcrop in Normandy, Mont Saint-Michel is the site of a stunning Romanesque Abbey, medieval church and historic battlements.
Mont Saint-Michel is an imposing historic village in Normandy, France which dominates the skyline from its position atop a small rocky island. Joined to the coast via a causeway, Mont Saint-Michel is best known for its Benedictine Abbey and Parish Church.
A settlement in Roman times, Mont Saint-Michel was later a stronghold of the Romano-Bretons until it was destroyed by the invading Franks. The area was to see a revival in the early eighth century when a church was built on the site. Legend has it that the church was built after the Archangel Michael appeared to Aubert, the Bishop of Avranches, instructing him to build the house of worship there.
However, Mont Saint-Michel rose to real prominence with the coming of the Normans when William I, Duke of Normandy, conquered the area and settled a community of Benedictine monks on the site. From the 11th to the 16th century the Romanesque Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel was constructed and expanded time and again, forming the imposing structure that is seen today. It was a prominent site for Pilgrims throughout the Middle Ages. During this time a village grew up around the Abbey with a maze of streets and buildings that can still be walked today.
Mont Saint-Michel was attacked by the English during the Hundred Years' War, but never captured, and the site was used as a prison during the French Revolution. In 1979 Mont Saint-Michel was declared a UNESCO world heritage historic site.
Today visitors flock to Mont Saint-Michel to view the remarkable Abbey and Church and to stroll through the ancient streets. Be warned however that the climb to Abbey is demanding. Many other sites remain including the medieval ramparts, the Mont Saint-Michel Museum of History, a Maritime Museum and the 14th century Tiphaine's house.
There is a tourist office next to the site entrance. Guided tours to Mont Saint-Michel are available as are audio guides for an additional cost.
Musee Airborne is a World War Two museum dedicated to the Normandy Landings of 1944.
Musee Airborne in St-Mère-Eglise in Northern France is dedicated to the role played by the American 82nd and 101st airborne divisions during the Normandy Landings of World War Two or "D-Day".
Taking place in June 1944, the Normandy Landings were a collaborative effort between British, American and Canadian troops, who launched a massive attack by air, land and sea to capture German occupied Europe in an operation known as Overlord.
St-Mère-Eglise was the site where American paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions landed between 5 and 6 June 1944 and is today the home of Musee Airborne.
Comprised of three main buildings, one of which is shaped like a parachute, Musee Airborne, also known as St-Mère-Eglise Airborne Museum, houses original aircraft from the Normandy landings, including a Waco Glider and the Douglas C-47 plane Argonia together with weaponry, photographs, documentation and a film about the landings.
Musee Airborne also explores the personal stories of the soldiers who took part in these operations.
Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is a World War Two graveyard with a visitor centre.
Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is the burial site of 9,387 US military personnel who fought and died in World War Two. Most of the graves at the Normandy American Cemetery belong to participants in the Normandy Landings on 6 June 1944, also known as D-Day.
The Normandy Landings were a coordinated effort by the Allied forces to recapture European land taken by the Germans. Codenamed Operation Overlord, the Normandy Landings were a pivotal point in World War II, representing a significant victory for the Allies. However, this victory came at a high cost of life, a fact commemorated at Normandy American Cemetery.
Normandy American Cemetery has a visitor centre, several memorials including Tablets of the Missing and orientation tables showing the battles which took place in the area. The visitor centre is itself a useful historical guide, offering an insight into the Normandy Landings and the soldiers who took part in the attack. Guides are on hand to answer questions.
The Omaha Beach Museum chronicles the events of the largest of the D-Day Landings in Normandy in World War II.
The Omaha Beach Museum (Musee Memorial Omaha) tells the story of the D-Day Landings on Omaha Beach in Normandy on 6 June 1944 during World War II.
Spanning an area of 10km, the Omaha Beach assault was the largest of the Normandy Landings and included, amongst others, the US 29th Division, the 1st US Division (Big Red) and the US 2nd Division.
The Omaha Beach assault suffered several setbacks, including the fact that the area was unexpectedly well-defended by the Germans and that many soldiers did not land at their intended targets. Despite these setbacks, the allied troops managed to establish footholds in the German occupied territory, although they were unable to complete their ambitious mission targets.
Through a series of exhibits, including dioramas, military uniforms, testimonials and photographs, the Omaha Beach Museum traces the events of the assault on Omaha Beach and Pont Du Hoc.
Pegasus Bridge in Normandy was captured by British forces at the start of D-Day, the Allied invasion of France.
Pegasus Bridge, originally known as Caen Canal Bridge, in Normandy, France, was a vital strategic position during Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of France.
On 6 June 1944, Allied forces landed on Normandy’s beaches, an event known as the Normandy Landings or “D-Day”.
Sword Beach was to be a landing point for British forces and, just to its east, was Pegasus Bridge, a small crossing over the Caen Canal. In order to protect the soldiers who would land at Sword Beach from German attack, a unit of the British 6th Airborne Division, led by Major John Howard, was tasked with capturing Pegasus Bridge.
They were also required to take the Merville gun battery in order to put it out of action. This would form part of Operation Tonga, in turn part of Operation Overlord.
On 5 June 1944, under cover of darkness, Major Howard and his men landed in gliders near Pegasus Bridge and proceeded to capture it intact within the staggeringly short time of ten minutes. This action was vitally important, preventing the possibility that German forces could attack the eastern flank of the soldiers arriving at Sword Beach.
The Merville gun battery and other bridges were also successfully taken by airborne forces. However, these victories came with heavy losses of around 2,000 men in all.
Caen Canal Bridge was renamed as Pegasus Bridge on 26 June 1944 after the winged horse emblem on the uniforms of the airborne division. The events at Pegasus Bridge and D-Day in general also inspired the 1961 film, “The Longest Day”.
There is currently a new bridge where Pegasus Bridge once stood, the original is now on display at the Pegasus Bridge Museum (just next to the bridge itself). There is also a plaque near the bridge setting out the events that occurred there.
The Pointe Du Hoc Memorial is located on one of the sites of the Normandy Landings of World War Two.
The Pointe Du Hoc Memorial in Normandy, France commemorates the American Second Ranger Battalion who fought there on 6 June 1944 as part of the D-Day landings in World War II.
The D-Day attack was a pivotal offensive which allowed the Allies to gain a foothold in Nazi-occupied France and begin the process of liberating Western Europe.
Pointe Du Hoc overlooks Omaha Beach, which was a vital landing point for Allied troops during the D-Day operation. Led by Lieutenant Colonel James E. Rudder, the Second Ranger Battalion was tasked with capturing German artillery at Pointe Du Hoc to ensure the safety of the troops landing on the beaches below.
The Pointe Du Hoc Memorial is a large granite structure which stands at the edge of the 100-foot cliffs these Rangers had to scale to complete their dangerous mission. The Rangers succeeded in their task, but suffered significant causalities in the process.
Constructed by the French and now managed by the American Battle Monuments Commission, the Pointe Du Hoc Memorial is a reminder of the heroism of the Rangers and the forced involved in the Normandy landings.
The area surrounding the Pointe Du Hoc Memorial is also historically fascinating, littered by bomb craters, it is preserved in much the same state as it was immediately following D-Day.
Sword Beach was one of the five landing beaches of the Normandy D-day Landings during World War II.
Sword Beach (Ouistreham) in Normandy, France was one of the sites of the Normandy Landings on 6 June 1944, D-day.
Assigned to units of the British 3rd Division, the landings at Sword Beach were the most eastern part of Operation Overlord, the allied offensive which led to the liberation of German-occupied France and subsequently Europe in World War II.
The Bayeux Tapestry Museum holds the famous embroidered account of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066.
The Bayeux Tapestry Museum (Musee de la Tapisserie de Bayeux) is housed in a seminary in Bayeux called Centre Guillaume Le Conquerant and holds one of the most famous historical chronicles in the world, the Bayeux Tapestry.
The Bayeux Tapestry is 230-foot wool embroidered account of William, Duke of Normandy’s conquest of England including the Battle of Hastings where he defeated Harold, the King of England on 14 October 1066. Whilst the origins of this incredibly detailed tapestry are a subject of controversy, it is thought that it dates back to the year of the battle and was commissioned by William’s half-brother, Bishop Odo of Bayeux.
Told from the Norman viewpoint, the Bayeux Tapestry has itself been a subject of debate, but it remains one of the only sources telling the story of the Norman Conquest and a useful insight into the medieval world. The importance of this historical document has been recognised by UNESCO, who listed it on their Memory of the World Register.
The Bayeux Tapestry Museum displays the original embroidered piece in a special gallery and has a further exhibit offering an insight into the story it tells as well as the way in which it was made. Audio guides lasting twenty minutes explain each of the 58 scenes shown in the tapestry are available in 14 languages and for children in English and French.
The Bayeux Tapestry Museum also has cinema room, showing a documentary about the history of the Norman Conquest and the tapestry. A visit to the Bayeux Tapestry Museum lasts around 1.5 hours.
The Juno Beach Centre explores the history of the Canadian forces in World War II.
The Juno Beach Centre, also known as the Normandy Canadian Museum, chronicles the Canadian contribution to the war effort during World War II.
Based in the location assigned to the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division in the D-Day Landings, the Juno Beach Centre focuses especially on the events which took place on 6 June 1944, whereby Canadian forces took part in the invasion of Normandy.
From photographs and documents to multimedia presentations and even a tour of the D-Day landing site and bunker, the Juno Beach Centre looks not only at the Canadian efforts in World War II, but paints a portrait of modern Canada.
A visit usually lasts 1.5 hours.
The Merville Gun Battery is a former German World War II fortification neutralised by the Allies on D-Day.
The Merville Gun Battery was a German held fortification in Normandy which the Allies captured in the course of Operation Overlord in World War II.
Operation Overlord was the Allied invasion of Normandy, France, in June 1944. This hinged on the ability of Allied troops to land at various beaches in Normandy, an event known as D-Day or the Normandy Landings.
The Merville Gun Battery, which had four 100mm calibre guns (the Allies thought it had 150mm guns), was within firing distance of Sword Beach, which was designated as a British landing zone. This was a danger to the forces which were to land at Sword Beach and their supporting fleet. Thus, the 9th Battalion of the British Parachute Regiment led by Lieutenant-Colonel Terence Otway were tasked with capturing and disabling Merville Gun Battery before the landings were due to take place on 6 June 1944.
The complex operation was subject to severe setbacks. Only 150 of the 750 troops who were supposed to arrive actually reached the site after troops were dropped in incorrect locations up to ten miles from the intended drop zone. Furthermore, very few supplies reached these troops.
Yet, despite these problems, Otway and his men managed to improvise a new plan and successfully neutralised the Merville Gun Battery just hours before the Normandy Landings began. German troops managed to return to the fortification in the afternoon, but it now had only two working guns and posed a much smaller threat to troops landing at Sword Beach. In any event, it was recaptured by the Allies once again on 7 June.
Today, the Merville Gun Battery is open to the public as the Musée de la Batterie de Merville, which stands as a museum, a memorial and an educational site.
The Pegasus Bridge Museum in Normandy is dedicated to the British 6th Airborne Division, the first Allied troops to land on D-Day.
The Pegasus Bridge Museum, officially known as Memorial Pegasus, in Normandy houses the famous Pegasus Bridge, which was captured by British forces on the night of 5-6 June 1944 during World War II.
The capture of Pegasus Bridge was carried out in order to protect the eastern flank of the landing operations at Sword Beach as part of the Allied invasion of German-occupied Northern Europe. It played a vital role in aiding this attack, part of Operation Overlord, more commonly known as the Normandy Landings or “D-Day”.
Visitors to the Pegasus Bridge Museum can not only learn about the events of the capture of this important strategic point, but also about the forces which carried it out, the British 6th Airborne Division.
With displays of historic items such as weapons and gliders, documents, photographs and, of course, Pegasus Bridge itself, visitors can learn about various missions carried out by this division and about the capture of the bridge on D-Day, which has been nicknamed “The Longest Day” after the 1961 film based on the offensive.
Guided tours are available and last around an hour and a quarter.
The Utah Beach Memorial commemorates the Normandy Landings at Utah Beach on D-Day.
The Utah Beach Memorial is an American monument in Normandy which commemorates the World War II D-Day Landings. On 6 June 1944, as part of the Allied invasion of German-occupied Normandy known as Operation Overlord, the US 4th Infantry Division, part of the VII Corps, landed on Utah Beach.
Comprised of a granite obelisk, the Utah Beach Memorial is a monument to the achievements of this division and their successful landings.