When you get close to Bayeux, the three spires of its beautiful cathedral appear in distance, you cannot miss it. It is one of the rare cities not destroyed during World War II in Normandy even if it is so close to the D Day Beaches. You will enjoy visiting it or even staying in.
In the middle of the "Baiocassi" celtic tribe's territory, a rich agricultural area, the city was probably built by the Romans, after the invasion of the Gaules ; a lot of remains of the proud "Augustodorum" have been discovered and some are displayed in the Museum of Art and History Baron Gérard (MAHB). The "city of the Baiocassi", or Bayeux was evangelized as soon as the 4th C., and became a major bishopric.
Then came Normans, nowadays known as "Vikings", lead by the Norwegian Rollo, who imposed themselves on the county of Rouen, later named "Normandia", or "Normans' Land". Rollo had captured Bayeux, and Poppa, the daughter of Count Béranger de Bayeux became his "frilla" (major concubine). Both of them are the ancestors of the Dukes of Normandy, the most famous of them being William the Conqueror.
It was the first town of importance liberated by the Alllies the day after D Day.
From the medieval castle and the ancient city wall, not much remains, but the size of the cathedral gives a good idea of the importance of the city in middle-ages. Bayeux is still the second most important bishopric after the archbishopric in Rouen. Even if William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, and King of England after he conquered this kingdom in 1066, had chosen to transfer the civilian authorities from Bayeux to Caen, Bayeux kept the religious power, and William had his half-brother become bishop of Bayeux. Odon of Conteville, ended the construction of a large romanesque cathedral, that some parts remains in the cathedral visible in Bayeux nowadays : Façade towers an the semi-circular arches of the nave inside.
Extensions and embellishments were made later, especially in the 13th C.
Along the arches, the famous Bayeux Tapestry was suspended during a few days every year in July. It tells the story of how William became the King of England, and is nowadays well preserved and displayed in a museum nearby. Almost 230 ft long, 20 in. high, it's an amazing medieval work, nearly 1000 years old. As very few images of this time exists, the so-called Tapestry (it's in fact an embroidery) brings a lot of testimonies of the daily life, and military techniques of the 11th century.
If you have time, pay a visit to the other museums of Bayeux :
Museum of Art and History Baron Gerard (or MAHB) It has a rich collection of pieces of history from the Antiquity until nowadays, and especially a gret collection of lace, as Bayeux was a big lace-making center from the 17th C. until the beginning of the 20 C. Another incredible collection of Bayeux porcelain is also displayed, famous as one of the most resistant in the world which disapppeared after the inventions of more modern materials.
A little outside of the city center, I can take you to the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery of Bayeux, where almost 4650 soldiers were buried after D Day and the Battle of Normandy. British mostly, but also Canadians, Australians, New-zealanders, and even one South-african, troops of the Commonwealth who fought and died in this part of the region lie here in eternel rest. Some non Commonwealth troops are also buried here, victims of the conflict as well like French, Poles, Tchechs, and even a few Italians, Russians and 466 Germans.
You will also enjoy walking in Bayeux picturesque weaving streets, between old stone, or half-timbered houses. There are lots of places to stay, lots of nice restaurants, nice shops. Bayeux is definitely the place to stay if you want to visit D Day Beaches sector and western Normandy.
Plan enough time for the city if you come to Bayeux mostly for visiting D Day Beaches, if not you will regret !
You also have to taste the "St Eve", a delicious patisserie, local specialty .