Caen

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caen
Why not plan a trip to this beautiful Normandy destination?

Caen is one of Normandy’s most important cities and although small it’s a delight to visit. It has a population of around 106,000 and is the capital of Calavados and is located where the rivers Orne and Odon meet.

Caen is the home town of William the Conqueror, the hero of the great Battle of Hastings in 1066. Caen was vital for D-Day and the Normandy landings in World War II.

The fortunes of Caen were transformed by Duke William of Normandy. William had asked his distant cousin Matilda of Flanders for her hand of marriage, but the catholic church objected to this union. They waited until Williams two abbeys were built here, L’Abbaye-aux Dames (the ladies abbey) and L’Abbaye-aux-Hommes (the men’s abbey).

Caen’s second claim to international importance came during World War II. Just like Bayeux, Caen is very near to Arromanches and the Normandy landing beaches.

On the 6th June 1944 a heavy allied bombing raid set of fires which burnt the centre of the town. The Canadians on July 9th, who had taken Carpiquet airfield, entered the town. This was the start of a German counter-bombing campaign which lasted another 2 months.

1,500 of the town’s citizens camped out in St Etienne church. A hospital was set up in the monastery buildings of the men’s abbey. 400 lived nearby in the hospice of the good saviour (bun saveur). Warned by the town, the allies, left the village intact. The majority of citizens left the town to live in quarries and caves of Fleury, 1 mile south of Caen. However, Caen suffered a lot and a lot of what you see today is largely a reconstruction of the old town.

There are some great sites in Caen.

Caen castle is a must see, begun by William the Conqueror in 1060 and was fortified by his son, Henry Beauclerk in 1123. Its an impressive castle surrounded by huge walls. There are two main gateways with barbicans guard the entrances. The views from the walls stretch out over Caen and far into the distance.

You can walk the William the Conqueror trail around Caen, which will take you around some wonderful sights. Many of the major buildings were constructed from the famous Caen stone, which is a beautiful cream coloured limestone quarried in the nearby area. William the Conqueror used the stone for Caen castle and the two abbeys. It became one of France’s most profitable exports after the Battle of Hastings. It was used to build the cathedrals of Canterbury, the Tower of London, Durham and Norwich and Westminster Abbey. Later it was also at St Patricks cathedral in New York, Cologne cathedral and the Royal Palace in Brussels.

The Musee des Beaux-Arts is housed within the precincts of William the Conquerors castle. The collection covers historical and large religious paintings. There are also Italian paintings from the 15th to 17th Centuries.

At the other end of the castle the museum of Normandy covers the history and traditions of Normandy. There is a section which covers crafts and industry with marriage chests of wood, tools and costumes.

St Etienne Abbey church is attached to the monastery buildings, the Abbey church of St Etienne was consecrated in 1077. The church has rich Romanesque details, vast nave, soaring towers and Gothic chapels. It originally housed the sarcophagus with the body of William the Conqueror. When the church was sacked by the Protestant Hugeonts in the 16th and the Conquerors remains were scattered. The only exception was a femur which is buried underneath a stone in front of the altar and is inscribed with an epitaph.

Another impressive sight is the Caen memorial museum. It is a museum for peace, built by the city and commemorating the Battle of Normandy. It was built on the site of the bunker of W Richter, the German general who faced the British -Canadian forces on June 6th 1944. It is a plain building with a fissure down the middle which marks the destruction of the city and the triumph of the allies over the Nazis. The museum covers the main events of World War II using archives, testimonies by witnesses and the film hope you can view a panoramic projection of D Day seen by both points of view, the Allied and the German. In 2010 galleries opened telling the story of the Normandy landings.

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