When you get your ticket, take the option for full lunch in the restaurant. The museum is large and emotionally draining (all that war and violence) so you need a break and the food is excellent.
You start down a curving ramp . . . descending into the horrors of war symbolically, starting with the ending of World War I, the Great Depression and “The Failure of Peace.”
You progress through “France in the Dark Years” including both collaboration and resistance. There is a stirring film on the Battle of Britain. This is followed by “World War–Total War” including a film on the siege of Stalingrad.
Next you go to the theater for “The Battle of Normandy.” The huge screen is split with Allied footage on the left and Axis footage on the right. After that, you go on to another theater for a film about D Day and then are returned to the exhibits. The Hall of Peace is next and had exhibits from many different cultures defining peace. Official Web Site of Caen
The tomb of William the Conqueror of 1066 fame is located in the Abbeye aux Hommes. William the Conqueror died early on the morning of September 9, 1087 in Rouen. Gesta Regum Anglorum states that William, his stomach protruding over the forward part of his saddle, was injured when he was thrown against the pommel and his internal organs ruptured. He was fifty-nine years old and had ruled England for twenty-one years and Normandy for thirty-one more. In accordance with his wishes, he was buried in Saint-Etienne Abbey Church in the Abbaye-aux-Hommes.
Then something macabre happened. The monk of Caen writes that William was "great in body and strong, tall in stature but not ungainly." When it came time to bury the heavy body, it was discovered that the stone sarcophagus had been made too short. There was an attempt to force the corpse and, says Orderic, "the swollen bowels burst, and an intolerable stench assailed the nostrils of the by-standers and the whole crowd." Even the frankincense and spices of the censers was not enough to mask the smell, and the rites were hurriedly concluded.
William Rufus commissioned a memorial for his father, "a noble tomb, which to this day shines with gold and silver and precious stones in handsome style" with an inscription in gold. This memorial was to survive until 1522, when William's body was examined and reinterred. Forty years later, it was destroyed by a Calvinist mob and the remains scattered. Only a single thigh bone survived, which was preserved and reburied under a new monument in 1642. But even this was destroyed during the French Revolution.
Now only a simple stone slab marks the burial place of William the Conqueror. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle provides his epitaph.
"He who was earlier a powerful king, and lord of many a land, he had nothing of any land but a seven-foot measure; and he who was at times clothed with gold and with jewels, he lay then covered over with earth."
The church of Saint-Étienne needed only 15 years to be built and underwent few transformation: this make it one of the highest examples of Romanesque architecture in Normandie. William the Conqueror founded it in 1063 (then he wanted to be buried there) and the church was finished in 1077. It gave shelter to the people of Caen in 1944 during the bombing that damaged only the towers.
The 11th-century façade is not decorated, according to the features of the Romanesque style, while the two bell towers have Gothic steeples. Observe the beautiful apse before entering the church.
The interior of the church is majestic. Worth remarking are the wide Romanesque arches, the matroneum at the base of the windows and the Gothic choir. In front of the high altar (dating of 1771), you can see a modern epitaph that reminds of William the Conqueror's tomb, destroyed during the religion wars and the Revolution.
Built in around 1060 to house Duke William’s residential palace, the Château of Caen remains one of the largest fortified enclosures in Europe.
It is behind these walls that William, surrounded by his barons, prepared to expel the traitor Harold from England. His conquest at Hastings in 1066 would give the future King of England the nickname “the Conqueror”. The Exchequer Room bears the memory of feasts organised by the Duke Kings, descendants of William through to Richard the Lionheart.
However, through the centuries, the Château would gradually be swallowed up by the city, stifled by houses and forgotten by Caen inhabitants until the bombings in 1944...
In the heart of a destroyed quarter, the old medieval enclosure seemed to have sprung up from nowhere.
The Benouville-Pegusus Bridge is a must-see if you are visiting World War II sites. Pegasus, the flying horse, was the emblem of the 6th British Airborne Division and they captured the bridge on June 6, 1944 thus maintaining a vital transportation link for the Allies.
It's a drawbridge and it's fun to see it go up and down. It is also on the beautiful river Orne. It is a very peaceful place today and you wll see ducks swimming on the river and men fishing there.
There is a Memorial on one side of the river that is worth a visit. It is not open in January. Check the web site listed below for hours at other times. Official Web Site of Pegasus Bridge
See other photos by clicking on the photograph
The American Cemetery at Omaha Beach is outside of Colleville-sur-Mer but a good base for visiting is the nearby city of Caen. You can combine the visit to the Cemetery with a visit to the Caen Peace Memorial and nearby Pegasus Bridge with the small museum and river walk there. It's a pretty intense day. If you don't have a car, there are tours available to various WWII sites and you can choose one to suit your time and your budget. Check at the local tourist office for prices and schedules. If you have a car, it would be more pleasant to stay at Bayeux and visit the WWII sites from there. Bayeux is a charming smaller town with an excellent market, historic cathedral and, most famous, the Bayeux Tapestry. Official Caen Web Site with D-Day Tours
This is a very intense experience although in the end, we found it very peaceful. I think one should visit if for no other reason than to remain aware of the cost of war.
There are cemeteries for all the countries who fought in that area and you may want to visit some of them too. We stayed near a Canadian Cemetery south of Caen and it was very peaceful and lovely there.
I've created a Colleville-sur-Mer page on Virtual Tourist that you can also check. Here's the link for you to cut and paste. http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/7ba16/1f5b5/
The Abbaye aux Hommes was founded by William the Conqueror in 1061 and was later built in Gothic style. The reconstruction of the Benedictine abbey started in the 18th century, but the French revolution suppressed the order.
Today the abbey hosts the Hôtel de Ville (city hall). The inside is open to visitors, but my parents and I didn't go inside because we had many other attractions to visit.
Guillaume le Conquérant had his castle built on a rock over the marsh where the rivers Orne and Odon meet. Later, the Château was enlarged and imposing walls with towers were built in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Inside the walls, you see buildings of different epochs. The palais de l'Echiquier ("Exchequer's palace") is what remains of the original castle and provides a rare example of civil Romanesque architecture.
However, the most relevant attractions inside the walls are the Musée de Normandie, located in the Palais du Gouverneur and the Musée des Beaux-Arts, one of the most beautiful Museums of Fine Arts I have seen in France.
Built in 1063 by William the Conqueror, the Men’s Abbey contains the abbey church of Saint-Etienne as well as the monastery buildings which today house Caen City Hall.
On entering the abbey church of Saint Etienne, visitors will be fascinated by the harmony of this Romanesque and Gothic architectural gem. In the heart of the church, you can contemplate the tomb of William, its founder.
Restored in the 18th century, the monastery buildings display superb pale oak-panelled rooms that are decorated with 17th, 18th and 19th century paintings. A cloister, pressing room, refectory, scriptorium, and escalier des matines (stairway leading from the dormitories to the church), all still tell of the monks’ activities today.
You may visit the Abbey at your leisure (except during services) daily,
from 8.30am to 12.30pm and from 1.30pm (2.30pm on Sundays and public holidays) to 7.30pm
Guided tours daily at 9.30am, 11am, 2.30pm and 4pm (except on Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and 1st May)
The 11am tour includes the monastery buildings, the press house and the Guard’s Room (14th century)
The other tours include the monastery buildings and the abbey church
Rates : adults €2.20, students and over 60s €1.10, free for under 18s and on Sundays
Spared during the bombing raids of 1944, this house bears the name of Quatrans family who were lawyers in royal service in Caen at the end of the 14th Century.
Thomas Quatrans, who fled before the English, on their seizing of the town in 1417, had his house confiscated ; it was given to an English knight and later rebuilt in the second half of the 15th Century.
As often in Caen, only the façade is built in timber, with little carved decoration, but it allows a large number of windows looking out onto the street.
The room that crowned the octogonal staircase at the back of the house was destroyed during the 1944 bombing.
The Cathédrale de Saint-Pierre stands opposite to the castle. Its façade dates back to the 15th century. The sides and the high Norman tower, whose steeple was rebuilt after World War II, are in flaming Gothic style. Instead, the apse goes back to Renaissance (1518-45). The inside is also very interesting, so come in!
Not all of Caen's churches have fared as well as proud St-Pierre. Take poor St-Jean. Its central steeple was sliced off, leaving a few fingers of stone stranded in the sky. Its archways twist and its columns lean and it doesn't look like it should be able to stand, but brave little St-Jean still struggles along...
Caen has about a dozen medieval churches. A couple (such as Saint-Sauveur le Vieux shown here) are little more than stark shells, showing the price of the city's liberation from the Nazis.
Others have been lovingly restored to their former glory, such as flamboyant St-Pierre directly in front of the Ducal Chateau which is probably the most decorative church in town.
Mathilda's Abbaye aux Dames (the Women's Abbey) sits on a hill to the east of the Ducal Chateau. Both abbeys were built to demonstrate their piety to the locals and were designed in an unadorned Romanesque style. Today both abbeys are part of government office complexes. The abbey churches remain consecrated and open to the public, while the remaining outbuildings can be seen only on guided tours of the offices.
William the Conqueror established himself here in 1060. The ramparts of his Ducal Chateau remain an imposing presence in the city centre. From its walls you can enjoy a panorama over the city and a bird's eye view of the Church of St-Pierre, as this photo shows. Inside the walls of the Ducal Chateau are two museums and a small, ancient chapel. You can also see the ruined foundations of old castle buildings. Together with the medieval medicinal garden, it's a pleasant place to while away an hour or two.