Caen is a commune in northwestern France.
It is the préfecture of the Calvados département and the capital of the
Basse-Normandie (Lower-Normandy) region.
It is located 15 km (6 mi) inland from the English Channel.
Caen is known for its historical buildings built during the reign of
William the Conqueror, who was buried here, and for the Battle for Caen
heavy fighting that took place in and around Caen during the Battle of Normandy
in 1944, destroying much of the town.
read full wikipedia reference about Caen, France
CAEN , capital and largest city of
Basse Normandie, is not a place where you'll want to spend much
time: in the months of fighting in 1944, it was devastated. Nonetheless,
the city that nine hundred years ago was the favoured residence
of William the Conqueror remains - in parts - impressive.
Its central feature is
a ring of ramparts that no longer have a castle to protect, and,
though there are the scattered spires and buttresses of two abbeys
and eight old churches, roads and roundabouts fill the wide spaces
where prewar houses stood. Approaches are along thunderous dual
carriageways through industrial suburbs now prospering once more
following an influx of high-tech newcomers.
A virtue has been made
of the necessity of clearing away the rubble of Caen's medieval
houses, which formerly pressed up against its ancient château
ramparts . The resulting open green space means that those walls
are now fully visible for the first time in centuries. In turn,
walking the circuit of the ramparts gives a good overview of
the city, with a particularly fine prospect of the reconstructed
fourteenth-century facade of the nearby church of St-Pierre .
Some magnificent Renaissance stonework has survived intact at
the church's east end.
Within the castle walls,
it's possible to visit the former Exchequer - which dates from
shortly after the Norman conquest of England, and was the scene of a banquet
thrown by Richard the Lionheart en route to the Crusades - and
inspect a garden that has been replanted with the herbs and medicinal
plants that were cultivated here during the Middle Ages. Also
inside the precinct, though not in original structures, are two
museums. Most visitors will probably prefer the Musée
des Beaux-Arts (daily except Tues 9.30am-6pm), which traces a
potted history of European art from Renaissance Italy through such Dutch masters as
Brueghel the Younger up to grand portraits from eighteenth-century
France in the upstairs galleries. Downstairs
brings things up to date with some powerful twentieth-century
art, though there are few big-name works. The other museum, the
Musée de Normandie (daily except Tues 9.30am-12.30pm &
2-6pm, free on Wed), provides a cursory overview of Norman history,
ranging from archeological finds like stone tools from the region's
megalithic period and glass jewellery from Gallo-Roman Rouen
up to the impact of the Industrial Revolution.
The Abbaye aux Hommes ,
at the west end of rue St-Pierre, was founded by William the
Conqueror and designed to hold his tomb within the huge, austere
Romanesque church of St-Étienne (daily 8.15am-noon &
2-7.30pm, free; 1hr 15min guided tours leave adjacent Hôtel
de Ville daily 9.30am, 11am, 2.30pm & 4pm). However, his
burial here, in 1087, was hopelessly undignified. The funeral
procession first caught fire and was then held to ransom, as
various factions squabbled over his rotting corpse for any spoils
they could grab. A further interruption came when a man halted
the service to object that the grave had been constructed without
compensation on the site of his family house, and the assembled
nobles had to pay him off before William could be laid to rest.
During the Revolution the tomb was again ransacked, and it now
holds a solitary thigh-bone rescued from the river. Still, the
building itself is a wonderful Romanesque monument. Adjoining
the church are the abbey buildings, designed during the eighteenth
century and now housing the Hôtel de Ville.
At the other end of the
town centre, at the end of rue des Chanoines, is the Abbaye aux
Dames, commissioned by William's wife Matilda in the hope of
saving her soul after committing the godless sin of marrying
her cousin. Her monument - the church of La Trinité -
is even more starkly impressive than her husband's, with a gloomy
pillared crypt, wonderful stained glass behind the altar and
odd sculptural details like the fish curled up in the holy-water
stoup. The convent buildings today house the regional council
but are open to the public for free guided tours (daily 2.30pm
Most of the centre of Caen
is taken up with busy new shopping developments and pedestrian
precincts, where the cafés are distinguished by names
such as Fast Food Glamour Vault. Outlets of the big Parisian
stores - and of the aristocrats' grocers, Hédiard, in
the cours des Halles - are here, along with good local rivals.
The main city market takes place on Friday, spreading along both
sides of Fosse St-Julien, and there's also a Sunday market in
place Courtonne. The pleasure port , at the end of the canal
which links Caen to the sea, is where most life goes on, at least
Just north of Caen, at
the end of avenue Marshal-Montgomery in the Folie Couvrechef
area, the Caen Memorial - "a museum for peace"
- stands on a plateau named after General Eisenhower (daily:
mid-Jan to mid-Feb & Nov-Dec daily 9am-6pm, last entry 4.45pm;
mid-Feb to June, Sept & Oct 9am-7pm, last entry 5.45pm; July
& Aug 9am-8pm, last entry 6.45pm; tel 02.31.06.06.44,), on
a clifftop beneath which the Germans had their HQ in June and
July 1944. Funds and material for it came from the US, Britain, Canada, Germany, Poland, the former Czechoslovakia, the Russia and France. The museum is a typically French
high-tech, novel-architecture conception, with excellent displays
divided into three sections; it's worth allowing at least two
hours for a visit. The first section deals with the rise of fascism
in Germany, another with resistance and collaboration in France.
A third charts all the major battles of World War II, and visits
culminate with three separate film documentaries. In addition,
the former German bunkers below have been refurbished as the
Nobel Peace Prize Winners' Gallery. Portraits and short essays
commemorate each recipient in turn, placing their achievements
in context. There's also a good-value self-service restaurant
The memorial is on bus
routes #17 (Mon-Sat) and #S (Sun) from the "Tour le Roi"
stop in the centre of town .
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