|It has certainly been a full day with an eight o'clock start back to Caen where we met a local guide who was excellent and will be joining us again tomorrow and possibly the day after.
Jan had supplied us with some written material about William the Conqueror and our guide expanded on this as we moved to the first visit at the Abbaye aux Hommes. In an attempt to pay off his rather dubious marriage, William has the Abbaye aux Hommes ( Men's Abbey) and Mathilda, the Abbaye aux Dames (ladies' Abbey) built in Caen in 1063 although construction started in 1066. The abbey church was initially in Romanesque style and the Gothic chancel was started in early 13 th century. Its survival in good condition is due to a Red Cross on the roof as an indication to allied planes that it was a place of shelter and indeed there were some 10,000 people sheltering inside during the 1944 landings.
The Benedictines had arrived in the 17th century and what was there refectory is now a grand reception area where the Roman arches can be seen but the walls have been panelled in beautifully carved wood. Similarly the Chapter house has been panelled and is now the place where official marriages take place. The cloisters are complete and surround a typical French garden. It did serve as a school in the 1800's until 1961 but by 1965 the City Hall was set up in the old monastery and the sensitive restoration is a credit to the city.
William's tomb is in the church but not the original, it having been desecrated a number of times.
Caen is a city which suffered enormous damage during the landings in 1944 with 75% of the city destroyed. Rebuilding was planned so there is uniformity in the buildings which we passed as we drove across the city to Mathilde's Women's Abbey. The Covent took young women of aristocratic families who came with substantial dowries but neverthe less the cloisters here were never completed. One of the nuns was responsible for stabbing Marat in the bath (look for the painting) and as a consequence lost her head. Mathilda is buried in the Abbey church which is light and very feminine in feel.
After lunch we went to The Memorial a large building which shows aspects of war. Starting at the end of WWI it is arranged in angradually descending spiral walkway where the walls are crammed with information pictures, film clips, documents detailing the history and politics of the years leading to WWII . While there is some emphasis on the situation in France with the occupied zone, resistance, collaboration all the areas of war, including the war in the Pacific are cove, as well as the treatment of various groups, including Jews gypsies and disabled. All over a most comprehensive coverage and with audio guide one and a half hours was quite enough to take in at one time but it would be good to make repeat visits. A film gave some details of the Normandy landings so a good introduction for us as tomorrow we spend the day on the Normandy beaches.
With that in mind after a good dinner and a glass or two of wine at a nearby restaurant it's time for bed and I've just realised that the lack of a blind in my room is because the window has shutters. Must share this info tomorrow with others who found the lack of blind surprising and a little annoying given the long twilight and early sunrise.
I'm unfortunately not adding photos because of the slow internet connection but if we get a better connection I'll go back and add a few.