Breizh Poellrezh SF - Douarañ Santel
Breizh Poellrezh SF - Douarañ Santel

Ouistreham-Riva Bella

This township has existed since Roman times, in later years grew around two sites from the medieval period: the Saint-Samson church, a magnificent building that was constructed during at the end of the 12th century and the first quarter of the 13th century, on the site of an earlier wooden church that was destroyed during the Viking raids at the end of the 9th century. It was consecrated by Jean de Marigny, Evêque of Beauvais in 1327. It was badly damaged by fire during the Hundred Years War and rebuilt some time between 1495 and 1505, then consecrated for a second time in 1506 by Louis Villiers of l'Isle Adam, Evêque of Beauvais. In the 17th century there were further alterations, one of which was that the tombstones that were in the church were moved and laid flat to create a pavement. The square dates back to 1765. The bell tower was struck by lightning in 1785 and later restored. In 1791, Saint-Samson was transformed into Temple of the Reason and it is known revolutionaries held quite a number of demonstrations there.

The gabled western frontage with its three superimposed tiers of blind aches and the northern side of the nave are the oldest parts of the church. Make sure you get a good look at the 12th century belfry that is supported by buttresses. The southern brace of the transept, southern elevation of the nave and the sacristy are of 14th century. All this reconstruction has caused an imbalance, with the result that the nave now has 6 spans on north side and only two on the south.

The second being La Grange aux Dîmes (the Barn with Said) that dates from about the same period. The word barn is synonymous with farm and it indicates that all the farm buildings were built by the monks for their own use, either inside the monastic enclosure, or with the aim of cultivating the distant grounds. The creation of these monastic barns was mainly the work of the Cisterciens, Prémontrés and the Benedictines who were rich landowners. These barns were exclusively monastic.

The first mention of the barn at Ouistreham dates back to 1257 and the census ordered by the Jolienne abbess of Girds-Célerin.

Today, La Grange aux Dîmes has been restored and is used as a local museum.

So there you have the origins of the township.

Today, the town sits astride the mouth of the River Orne and the Caen Canal, and has combined with the beach resort of Riva Bella, which has been redeveloped from the ruins of the German occupation and evacuation at the time of the Allied invasion on the 6th June 1944.

This is a bustling town and port with berths for the fishing fleet, mainly trawlers, pleasure-craft and the cross-channel ferries. There is a local market on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays (at certain times of the year), also a fish market every morning.

A view looking west towards Riva Bella

Although the River Orne has always allowed Caen to operate as a port, it wasn't until the the middle of the 19th century that Baron Cachin built the canal parallel to the river.The canal is 12 kilometres long and is controlled by a series of locks and is served by an outer basin, here in Ouistreham. With the increase in production by Caen Steelworks, the canal has had to by deepened and widened. There has also been the construction of many extra docks, including St.Peter's Dock for pleasure craft, the Calix Dock and Hérouville Dock, all of which came into use in 1974.

The main trade of the Caen Harbour is the transportation of cereals, the harbour can accommodate vessels up to 19000 tons fully laden and 30000 tons partially laden. On the 6th June 1986 the car-ferry service to Portsmouth opened and today caters for about one million passengers a year.

Places to Visit

La Batterie de Ouistreham - Riva Bella

The battery was constructed during the spring 1942 on the beach at Riva-Bella. It consisted of six 155mm guns in a concrete emplacement with no overhead protection. The battery was built in this position so as to create a lock at the mouth of the River Orne and the canal entrance.

Because of their vulnerability to the air raids, and because of lack of bunkers to shelter them, the guns were removed their sites in May 1944 and were transported inland. So this battery could not play any part at the time of the landings on Sword Beach.

Atlantic Wall Museum

This museum is located in the former German 17-metre high bunker; it was one of the range-finding stations of the Atlantic Wall and gave firing instructions to the guns in the Ouistreham area. The museum revives the atmosphere of the landings through reconstitution of rooms with the use of materials recovered at the end of the war and uniform suited dummies. On the fifth floor, you can look at the landscape through a German rangefinder, and you can also see remnants of some of the heavy material outside.

Commando Landing Museum

In this museum one can see model scales, documents, badges, weapons, uniforms and objects re-enacting the actions of the Franco-British commandos who landed on Sword Beach.

Flame Monument

This monument, situated on the waterfront, symbolizes the sacrifice of the Free French soldiers on 6 June 1944; several monuments are dedicated to the French commandos who died in the fighting, and a small monument is dedicated to Commander Kieffer.

Liberation Monument

This monument, which is beside the Caen road (D514), commemorates the landing of the Allied forces on 6 June 1944, and the liberation of Europe. A plaque on the monument is dedicated to French and British soldiers of N°4 Commando who fell during the liberation of France on 6 June 1944.

Normandie Wine Warehouse

Situated on Quai Charcot (beside the canal) with another entrance on Rue de l'Yser. This is the place to buy wine; the friendly staff (Eric, Emmanuel, Nathalie, Bruno, Jerôme or Jean-Philippe) with their vast knowledge of wine are willing and able to assist you with your choice from the enormous range available. Jacqui and I have spent hundreds of euros in this emporium and have never bought a poor quality wine. It should be noted that buying wine in France is considerably cheaper than in the UK and you will save at least £2 per bottle compared with UK prices, also it is even cheaper if you buy in case quantities. Although there is limited parking on the Quai Charcot, there is some more parking on Rue de l’Yser. Failing that, it is only a 200-metre walk from the ferry terminal. The warehouse offers a delivery service to the ferry terminal. For more information about the wine warehouse, please see the link on our Interactive Pages..

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