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The historic region of Normandy (French: Normandie) is located in northern France along the English Channel between Picardy on the east and Brittany on the west. It is predominantly agricultural, producing milk, butter, and cheese; apples; grain; thoroughbred horses; and calvados, an apple brandy. Camembert cheese is a local specialty.

According to tradition, when Saint Aubert, bishop of Avranches, built an oratory in 709 on top of a mount, he did so at the command of the archangel Michael. That was the first building on what is now Mont-Saint-Michel, a famous pilgrimage center in the Middle Ages and today one of France's celebrated tourist sites.
(Aztech New Media Corp.)

The most famous spot in western Normandy is the offshore shrine of Mont-Saint-Michel. Normandy's principal cities are Caen, Cherbourg, Le Havre, and Rouen. The Seine River is the region's major waterway.

Normandy was part of ancient Gaul. Conquered by Julius Caesar in the 1st century BC, the area was incorporated into the Roman province of Lugdunensis in 27 BC. Franks overran the area during the 5th century. Beginning in the 9th century, NORMANS repeatedly raided the coast and began to settle there. In 911 the Normans were ceded the area by the French king CHARLES III. Their leader, Rollo, was recognized as the 1st duke of Normandy. The duchy became extremely powerful, and, in 1066, Duke William conquered England, being crowned there as WILLIAM I. On William's death, succession disputes among his sons divided Normandy and England, but the English king HENRY I obtained Normandy in 1106.

Seized by Geoffrey Plantagenet, count of Anjou, in 1144, Normandy was reunited with England when Geoffrey's son, HENRY II, succeeded to the English throne in 1154. After 1204, when PHILIP II of France conquered the area, Normandy was a French possession, but the English twice invaded it during the HUNDRED YEARS' WAR (1338-1453). They were finally expelled in 1450. Normandy lost its status as a province and administrative unit in 1790 and was divided into the departments of Calvados, Eure, Manche, Orne, and Seine-Maritime. In World War II the Normandy Invasion was the first step in the Allied invasion of Europe.


Caen {kahn} is the capital of Calvados department in Normandy in northern France, and has a population of 112,846 (1990). Located on the Orne River about 14 km (9 mi) inland from the English Channel, Caen is a major port and trade center for the surrounding agricultural region and is connected to the channel by canal. The development of nearby iron mines has enhanced its economy. Other industries include steel, textiles, and electronic equipment. A university, founded in 1432 by Henry VI of England, and several trade schools are located there. Historical landmarks include the 11th-century Abbaye-Aux-Hommes founded by William the Conqueror; the Abbaye-Aux-Dames founded (1066) by William's wife Matilda; and the Church of Saint-Pierre.

Caen served as the capital of Normandy under William the Conqueror. It was captured by the English in 1346 and was ruled by them from 1417 to 1450. During the French Revolution, Caen was an anti-Republican stronghold. The city was severely damaged in June and July of 1944 during the Allied invasion of France, but it has since been largely rebuilt.


Cherbourg {shair-boor'} is a town in Normandy in northwestern France. It is in the department of Manche on the English Channel and has a population of 27,121 (1990). A naval base and seaport, Cherbourg includes coal, timber, and shipbuilding among its industries. England and France vied for control of the city until Charles VII of France secured it in 1450. The harbor opens on a wide bay sheltered naturally on three sides. A fortified breakwater to the north was started by Louis XVI in 1776 and was completed in 1846. The harbor, badly damaged in World War II, has been reconstructed.

Le Havre

Le Havre {luh ahv'}, the second largest seaport of France, is located in northern France on the English Channel at the estuary of the Seine River. The city has a population of 195,854 (1990); that of the conurbation is 253,627. Le Havre is France's principal Atlantic port. Although passenger liner traffic has declined, the cross-channel trade in cargo has increased rapidly. Much cargo destined for Paris via the Seine River is transshipped here. Le Havre has a variety of industries, including sugar and petroleum refining, shipbuilding, and the manufacture of heavy machinery and electrical equipment.

Once a small fishing village, Le Havre took on added significance in 1517 when Francis I began harbor improvements. The port was an important military base during both world wars. Le Havre was occupied by the Germans and suffered much damage from Allied bombing during World War II. Postwar Le Havre is virtually a new city, with extensive new harbor facilities as well.


Mont-Saint-Michel {mohn-san-mee-shel'} is a 1-ha (3-acre) rocky islet topped by a famous Gothic abbey, 1.6 km (1 mi) off the northwest coast of France in the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel in the English Channel. The island, located 5 km (3 mi) from the shore during the Middle Ages, is now surrounded by water only two times a month. Its one cobblestone street climbs in three spirals from a great granite base to the towering Benedictine abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel, an architectural masterpiece built in the 13th century, replacing the original abbey, which was founded in 708 by St. Aubert, bishop of Avranches, but destroyed by King Philip II of France in 1203. Its fortifications enabled the islet to withstand repeated English assaults during the Hundred Years' War. The abbey served as a prison during Napoleon's reign. Restored after 1863, and connected to the mainland by a causeway (completed 1875), the abbey is preserved as a national historical monument and is one of France's great tourist attractions.


Rouen {roo-ahn'} is a city in northwestern France on the Seine River, about 115 km (70 mi) northwest of Paris. The city population is 102,723 (1990) and that of the conurbation, 380,161 (1990). Rouen serves as a major port for Paris and as a transshipment point for bulk products such as petroleum, coal, phosphates, wood products, and wines, as well as manufactured goods from Paris. Rouen's industries manufacture textiles, chemicals, soap, brandy, paper, and processed food. Ship repairing and petroleum refining are also economically important. Despite severe destruction during World War II, the city has saved much of its past and is known as the Museum City. Historical and architectural treasures make Rouen a tourist center. The restored 13th-century Cathedral of Notre Dame is but one of several important churches. The city is now part of the future planning region for Greater Paris. The university was established in 1966. Several museums exhibit the work of French masters.

The site of Rouen was originally settled by Celts and later by the Romans as Rotumagus. Its name was changed to Rouen during the Middle Ages. The city was held by the English from 1066 to 1204 and from 1419 to 1449. The trial and execution of Joan of Arc occurred there in 1431. It was taken by the Germans in 1870 and again in 1940 but recaptured by the Allies in 1944.

Bibliography: History intro (Timothy J. Rickard, Professor of Geography, Central Connecticut State College, New Britain.); Caen; Cherbourg; Le Havre (Lawrence M. Sommers, Professor of Geography, Michigan State University, East Lansing.); Mont-Saint-Michel; Rouen (Lawrence M. Sommers): 1997 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia v9.0.1., Grolier Interactive Inc., Danbury, CT. Fodor's 99 France, Editor: Natasha Lesser, Fodor's Travel Publications, New York.

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