Caen sights: city guide

What to see in Caen, France

Caen has a medieval town character in its history: the Duke of Normandy and King William the Conqueror of England.

Caen is a French city, the center of the Calvados department in the Normandy region. Caen is 10 km from the coast of the English Channel, and 140 km from Paris. It has 110 thousand people. From the Parisian railway station St-Lazare often (15 times per day) runs a train to Caen. Travel time – an hour and a half, and the ticket costs 30 EUR. There are frequent trains to Caen from Rouen (2 hours, 23 EUR).

The famous Norman duke (later King of England) William the Conqueror (Guillome le Conquerant) played a major role in the development of the city.

A View of the City

The story of William and Matilda

Two iconic landmarks built in the city during the early Middle Ages are linked to the curious story of William the Conqueror’s relationship with Matilda of Flanders. William, as the illegitimate son of Duke Robert of Normandy, nicknamed “the Devil,” inherited his father’s violent temper. Through his envoys, he proposed to Mathilde, daughter of the Count of Flanders. She replied that a noblewoman should not marry a bastard. The offended William arrived in Bruges, where Matilda lived, and met her in the street, dragged her from her horse, and threw her to the ground.

Strangely enough, after this Matilda changed her original decision. Even the papal ban (because of distant kinship) on marriage did not shake her consent. Truly, it is one step from hatred to love. William and Matilda married. A few years later, the new Pope agreed to their marriage. The penance (ecclesiastical punishment) for disobedience was the requirement to establish two monasteries. Thus a male and a female abbey were established in Cana.

As for William and Matilda’s marriage, it was a happy one. Matilda enjoyed her husband’s full confidence and ruled Normandy in his absence. The largest ship in William’s fleet during his conquest of England was a gift from his wife. Historians even believe that despite the long separation, William was faithful to his wife until her death.

City Abbey of Caen City Hall, Saint-Etienne

The sights of the city

Caen was badly destroyed during World War II. After World War II, many neighborhoods were filled with dull, typical Soviet Khrushchev-like five-story buildings. Fortunately, they’re a long way from the beautiful historic buildings.

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Saint-Stéphane Abbey

Abbeys

The Abbaye aux Hommes, founded by William the Conqueror in 1059, has its main building, the Eglise St. Etienne. The eye-catching towers on the west façade and the central lantern tower were built during William’s reign.

The interior of the cathedral impresses with its seemingly ethereal light. In the choir near the chancel is the tomb of William the Conqueror. During the Great French Revolution, a mob of vandals opened the tomb and scattered William’s bones in various parts of the city. Now only his tibia rests beneath the tombstone. This and a large number of other unsightly post-revolutionary events do not prevent the French from calling their revolution the Great Revolution and celebrating the date of its beginning (unlike in Russia).

Abbey interior

The church is open to visitors from 9:00 a.m. (Sundays from 2:00 p.m.) to 6:30 p.m. with a break at 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. In the other rooms of the monastery the municipality works. Tourists can visit it in strictly defined hours – 9:30, 11:00, 14:30 and 16:00, as part of the organized tours. Ticket prices range from 4.5 EUR to 7 EUR, depending on the season.

The earliest building of the convent Abbaye aux Dames is the ascetic Romanesque church Eglise de la Trinite (Saint Trinity) built in the XI-XII centuries. Inside we can admire the original white-stone columns, the 19th-century font, the beautiful choir and panels with images of women saints. The last panel depicts Mother Teresa. In the church is the tomb of Matilda. Vandals have been around at all times. In 1562, the Huguenot leader Admiral de Coligny opened the tomb and took from it a royal ring with a sapphire. He then suddenly repented and returned it to the abbess of the abbey.

Holy Trinity Abbey

Among the Benedictine nuns who lived in the abbey was Charlotte Corday. Had the revolution not happened, she would have remained unknown. But the revolutionaries closed the abbey, Charlotte returned to the world, and in 1793 she murdered Marat.

The premises of the former women’s abbey, like the men’s abbey, are now used for administrative purposes. The regional council of Calvados meets here. Tours are available twice a day at 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m.

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View of the chateau

Caen Castle

In the center of the city is the Chateau de Caen defensive castle.

It was founded by William the Conqueror a year after the men’s abbey. Subsequently, it was repeatedly completed and strengthened. For its time the fortress was the largest in Europe. Its main constructions are a powerful stone donjon (the main tower) and the church of Saint-George. It is well preserved. Its gothic portal is very beautiful. Of the donjon, unfortunately, are only ruins. From the fortress walls offers a beautiful panorama of the city.

Castle walls

The largest destruction the castle underwent during the last World War. After it, a large-scale restoration was carried out and most of the buildings of the castle complex were rebuilt.

Nowadays there are two museums on the castle – the Fine Arts Museum and the Normandy Museum. In the first of them you can see paintings by Perugino, Veronese, Rubens and Tintoretto. The Musee des Beaux-Arts is open daily, except Tuesdays, from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. On Wednesday, you can visit the museum for free. The Musee de Normandie is much the same: it opens half an hour earlier, and has a break from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Tickets to the museums cost 5,2 EUR each and are sold in the Church of Saint-Georges.

Another active site since the Middle Ages is the Jardin des Simples Apothecary Garden, cultivating medicinal and culinary plants.

St-Pierre

Church and Rue Saint-Pierre

Near the castle, in the square of the same name, is the gem of Caen – the Church of St-Pierre, built in the XIII-XIV centuries. Many details of the facade were destroyed in 1944.

The beautiful structure in the “flamboyant Gothic” style is diluted with a Renaissance altar and choir. Stone carvings adorn both the facade and the interior of the church. Some of its fragments are so graceful that they appear to be knitted.

Interior of Church

There is a tourist office next to the church building. From 10:00 am to 7:00 pm a nice little train leaves from there every hour to take tourists to the main sights. So in 50 minutes and 5 EUR I made my first impression of the city.

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The main pedestrian street of Caen is built up with unremarkable post-war buildings, but two beautiful half-timbered houses with exquisite wooden carvings and stained-glass windows have been preserved on it. By them you can imagine how the street looked like before the war.

There are also half-timbered houses in some other places in the city. Their focal point is between the Caen Castle and Rue des Vosges.

World famous statue of The Kiss

The Kahn Memorial

The Memorial de Caen – Un Musee pour la Paix is a landmark of the heavily damaged city of Caen during World War II. The Memorial – Un Musee pour la Paix is open from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm. From the tourist office on pl. St-Pierre to the museum you can get by bus 17. Its symbol is the image of a revolver with a knotted muzzle up close. Those who wish can take an excursion from the museum to the Allied landing sites on the Normandy coast (15 km away).

I have not been to the museum because I do not take seriously the contrived Western interpretation of military events. Especially in France, which became the nominal victorious power only by Stalin’s goodwill.

Old City street

Conclusion

The actual Caen surpassed my absentee view of it. The city impresses with its medieval architectural heritage. The church of St. Pierre is especially beautiful. And the history of William and Matilda makes the city even more interesting.

Caen sights: city guide

Caen (France) – the most detailed information about the city with photos. The main sights of Caen with descriptions, travel guides and maps.

Caen (France).

Caen is a city in northwestern France and the center of the Calvados department. It is the historic capital of Lower Normandy, whose heritage was destroyed in the crucible of World War II. Caen is the third largest city in the region after Le Havre and Rouen. Despite all the destruction, its historic center has been restored and contains many atmospheric streets, old buildings, churches and monasteries.

Things to do (France):

The Louvre, morning or evening. Tickets guaranteed!

51 €46 per person.

The Louvre in the morning or evening. Tickets guaranteed!

Two hours in the company of great masterpieces and without the tourist crowds on a tour in a mini group

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One Day in Paris

€285 per tour

One Day in Paris” sightseeing tour

Grand tour of the city for a full day – all the best things to see in the city.

Geography and climate

Caen is located on the Orne River, 10 km from the English Channel coast. The climate is temperate maritime. Characterized by warm summers, rainy autumns and cool winters.

The streets of Caen

The streets of Caen

Tourist information

  1. Population – more than 100 thousand people.
  2. Area – 25.70 km 2.
  3. The language is French.
  4. Currency – euros.
  5. Visa – Schengen.
  6. Time – Central European UTC +1, in summer +2.
  7. Caen has rail links with Paris, Le Mans, Tours, Dijon, and Rennes.

History

The first mentions of the city date back to the 10th century. Caen was founded by the Dukes of Normandy and reached its heyday under William the Conqueror, who made it the capital of the duchy. In 1204 the city became part of France. In 1346, it was taken by storm by English troops. From that time and during 114 years Caen belonged to the English crown. The University was founded here in 1432.

Panorama of Caen

The panorama of Caen

In 1460, the city returned to France. During the Reformation, the majority of the population was Protestant. Caen was destroyed in 1944 during the Battle of the City. The historic center lay virtually in ruins. It was completely rebuilt and restored in the 1960s of the 20th century.

Attractions

Old Town

Old Town

Caen has an extensive historic center with many narrow streets, old houses and impressive religious buildings. Unfortunately, the old city was severely damaged in 1944. 2/3 of the historic core actually lay in ruins, many historical and cultural monuments were damaged.

Saint-Pierre

Saint Pierre

Saint Pierre is a magnificent medieval church that allows you to see the evolution of architectural styles from early Gothic to Renaissance architecture. Construction of the building lasted from the 13th to the 16th century. The church boasts a magnificent 14th-century spire, a striking Gothic interior, and nave capitals.

Saint-Jean

Saint-Jean

Saint-Jean is a medieval church whose construction continued from the 14th to the 16th century, but was never completed.

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Saint-Etienne

Saint-Etienne

Saint-Etienne is the Benedictine abbey of St. Stephen, founded in the 11th century by William the Conqueror. It is the main attraction in Caen and is the pinnacle of Romanesque architecture. The abbey was built over several centuries, so it contains elements of Gothic and Classicism. The abbey was built by William as a sign of atonement for his marriage to Matilda of Flanders, which was not approved by the Church because of the kinship of the future spouses. It was also where the Conqueror was buried. William’s tomb was vandalized by the Calvinists during the Reformation. Only a tibia remains of his remains. The abbey was closed after the Great French Revolution.

Saint Trinité

Saint Trinité

Saint Trinité is a Benedictine abbey of St. Trinity founded in the 11th century by the wife of William the Conqueror. It is a masterpiece of Romanesque-Gothic architecture, despite reconstruction in the 19th century. The abbey was damaged during the Hundred Years’ War and closed after the French Revolution.

Saint-Etienne-le-Vieux

Saint-Etienne-le-Vieux

Saint-Etienne-le-Vieux is a magnificent Gothic church, founded in the 11th century and completed in the 15th century. The church was damaged during the Hundred Years’ War and closed due to its poor condition in the 19th century. In 1944 the building was destroyed by a shell and has not been restored to this day.

Chateau de Caen

Caen Castle

Caen Castle is a medieval citadel founded in the 11th century by William the Conqueror. It is one of the largest castles in Europe. During the period of independence of Normandy the fortress was the residence of the dukes. During the Hundred Years’ War, the castle was a stronghold of the English on French soil. During World War II it was used as a barracks, so it was badly damaged.

Memorial de Caen

Memorial de Caen

The Memorial de Caen is a monument to the brutal battles for Caen in World War II and a military museum.

Interesting tours

Grand Tour of Montmartre

From €105 for a guided tour

Grand tour of Montmartre

The Moulin Rouge, Dalida House, Villa Léandre, Chateau des Mists and other iconic spots of the bohemian quarter

The fabulous Louvre for children ages 6 and up

from €130 for a guided tour

The Louvre for children ages 6 and up

An educational but not boring adventure which will be memorable for young travelers

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