Normandy - A coastal province of rugged beauty and profound history (29 May)
Interesting Facts about Normandy
NORMANDY BECAME THE SITE of a momentous World War II invasion on June 6, 1944, when Allied troops crossed the English Channel and stormed its beaches. D-Day began the liberation of France and the Allied drive to Berlin that forced Germany to surrender. Visiting the windy beaches and memorials today—including Pointe du Hoc, the Mémorial de Caen, and the Normandy American Cemetery—is a moving and deeply humbling experience. Allied troops fought fiercely in the most dramatic operation of the European theater of war, and thousands perished during the Battle of Normandy, along with thousands of German soldiers and French civilians.
But long before D-Day, this apple-growing province of France had already figured prominently in world history. Medieval villages dot the countryside, and each has its own tale of Vikings, English conquerors, Impressionists, and saints.
One of the most famous sites is Mont-St.-Michel. The jumble of Romanesque and Gothic buildings teeters on a rocky isle in the middle of a bay. Powerful tides rush in to surround the mount, and then recede to expose vast, shimmering mudflats. In 708, legend has it, archangel Michael instructed the Bishop of Avranches in a vision to construct an oratory on the isle. The bishop did, and pilgrims have since wandered up its single street to the monastery.
To the east is Bayeux, the first city freed by the Allies during the Battle of Normandy. The charming town also recognizes another decisive (and much earlier) battle with the Bayeux Tapestry—the Battle of Hastings of 1066. This 230-foot-long (70 m) meticulously embroidered linen portrays in detail William the Conqueror’s invasion of England from the shores of Normandy.
Then there’s Rouen, the ancient capital of the Vikings who settled in the region. During the Hundred Years’ War, the fate of France’s patron saint, Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc), unfolded at the town’s market square. A modern church now marks the spot where she was burned at the stake in 1431, crying: “Rouen! Rouen! Must I die here?”
Art lovers will recognize Rouen’s Cathédrale Notre-Dame for its connection to another famous Frenchman—Impressionist painter Claude Monet, who captured the Gothic cathedral on canvas in many different lights. Visitors can find more insight into this art movement—which at the time was criticized for departing from the more formal established style—at several other places that inspired the Impressionists. These include the Côte d’Albâtre (Alabaster Coast), the fishing village of Honfleur, and Monet’s house and gardens at Giverny.