Bayeux boasts ancient tapestry, D-Day history

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 18, 2014 at 1:58 pm •  Published: March 18, 2014
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BAYEUX, France (AP) — There's a digital clock on display outside the visitors center in the charming Normandy town of Bayeux — but it doesn't tell the time. It's counting down the days until the 70th anniversary of D-Day in June.

My husband and I visited Bayeux last fall to spend the weekend at a conference. The "clock" seemed to indicate we had landed in the right place to squeeze in some historical sightseeing, since we weren't far from the beaches where Allied forces invaded on June 6, 1944.

But we soon learned that World War II-related tourism comprises only part of the attraction of Normandy, a region rich in history and natural beauty. The countryside also features quaint cities and centuries-old chateaus, as well as apple farms and windswept coastlines.

Bayeux, about three hours by bus from Paris, is a great place to start.

Billed as the first major town liberated by the Allies, Bayeux was miraculously spared damage during the war. Today, the old town center boasts cobblestone streets, upscale shops, small eateries and picturesque mills along the narrow Aure River; lacemakers practice the intricate local art across from a cathedral with stunning Norman architecture.

And visitors flock to see the town's namesake tourist attraction: the Bayeux Tapestry. The nearly thousand-year-old treasure, which is actually more of an embroidered scroll, depicts the story of how William, the duke of Normandy, became king of England.

I admit to being skeptical about how impressive this would be — textiles are not usually high on my list of sightseeing priorities. Yet as I moved through the dimly lit museum where the tapestry is displayed, the 230-foot-long (70-meter-long) piece of fabric came to life like a graphic novel. A quickly paced, handheld audio narrative conveyed an engaging tale of power, intrigue and double-crossing that culminates in William's triumph at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

The threaded illustrations of battle proved a fascinating contrast to the reason we had come to Bayeux.

We were attending events for the 20th anniversary of the Prix Bayeux-Calvados, journalism awards given each year to honor war coverage in print, photo, radio and video. Prize-winning pictures of global conflicts were exhibited at indoor and outdoor venues throughout the town.

The searing images inspired us to pay our respects at the reporters memorial, about a 10-minute walk from the heart of Bayeux. The quiet grove features a path lined by dozens of stone pillars engraved with the names of 2,000 correspondents who have died on the job since World War II.

Nearby sits Bayeux's museum of the Battle of Normandy, marked by several tanks parked outside. It's an analog affair by today's standards — instead of interactive iPad displays there are department-store mannequins dressed in battle gear — but the building is packed with information, wall maps, military equipment and period artifacts.



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