Caen Tourist Attractions

Caen, situated on the river Orne 14km/9mi above its outflow into the Channel, is the chief town of Lower Normandy and the département of Calvados and the seat of a university. Although three-quarters of the town was destroyed during the Allied landings in June-July 1944, it is still, after large-scale reconstruction and with its magnificent churches which were almost entirely unscathed by the war, second only to Rouen as one of the main tourist centers of Normandy. The port to the east of the town is one of the most important in France. Caen also has iron and steel, engineering and electrical industries.
There was originally a Gallo-Roman settlement on the site. Later the town developed into the administrative center of Normandy, ranking alongside Rouen. It first became French in 1204, and was finally incorporated in France in 1450.

Place St Pierre

The central feature Caen is the Place St-Pierre, with a monument to Joan of Arc (1964). Here too is the church of St-Pierre (13th-14th C), with a 75 m/245ft high tower (1308), whose boldly soaring spire was destroyed in 1944 and subsequently rebuilt. The interior is notable for a magnificent Renaissance apse, with rich decoration and unusual stalactitic vaulting. Opposite St-Pierre, to the west, is the Hôtel d'Escoville, a Renaissance mansion of 1538 (restored) with a beautiful courtyard.

Caen Castle

In Caen, occupying an extensive area on the hill which rises immediately to the north of Place St-Pierre, is a castle built by William the Conqueror (1060; enlarged in 13th-15th C), now laid out in gardens, which is entered through the 14th C Porte des Champs on the east side. From the terrace and from the castle walls there are fine views of the town.
Address: Château, F-14000 Caen, France

University (St Julien)

North of the castle are the imposing new buildings of the University. A short distance west is the church of St-Julien, on an elliptical plan, built in 1958 on the site of a church destroyed in 1944.


In Caen, in Rue de Geôle, which runs along the west side of the castle, is the Maison des Quatrans (No. 31), a handsome half-timbered house built in 1381. Within the precincts of the castle are the chapel of St-Georges (12th and 15th C), with a Romanesque nave; the Musée des Beaux-Arts (1960), with pictures by Rogier van der Weyden, Tintoretto, Rubens, Courbet and Boudin and faience from Rouen, Nevers and Strasbourg; the Musée de Normandie (a museum of regional interest, with exhibits illustrating the history of Normandy); and the Salle de l'Echiquier, a splendid Romanesque building in which the Council of Normandy used to meet.
Address: Esplanade du Château, F-14000 Caen, France

La Trinité

In Caen, to the east of Place St-Pierre, at the end of Rue des Chanoines, is the Place de la Reine-Mathilde, in which is the magnificent Romanesque abbey church of La Trinité or of the Abbaye-aux-Dames, built by William the Conqueror's wife Matilda in 1062 to expiate the offence of marrying her cousin. In the impressive interior is the queen's tomb, and beneath this is a crypt. Adjoining the church, on the site of a Benedictine abbey founded by Matilda, is the Hôtel-Dieu, a hospital built in the 18th century.

St Jean District

In Caen, south of Place St-Pierre is the St-Jean district, rebuilt after wartime destruction, with the church of St-Jean (14th-15th century; badly damaged in 1944 but since restored) and the broad Avenue du 6-Juin (D-day 1944), which runs south over the Orne to the railroad station.

Some 1,500 m/1,600yd south of the station is the Château d'Eau de la Guérinière (by G. Gillet, 1957), a water-tower in the shape of a top.

Rue St-Pierre, the main street of the old town, runs southwest from Place St-Pierre. 200 m/220yd along this street, on the right, are two handsome half-timbered houses (Nos. 52 and 54). Farther along, also on the right, is the church of St-Sauveur (14th-15th century), with a beautiful tower and a richly decorated apse of 1546. Rue St-Pierre continues past the church through a part of the town which escaped destruction during the last war and ends in Place Malherbe. A little way south is the Jesuit church of Notre-Dame de la Gloriette (1684).


The Mémorial, to the northwest of the town center, is a modern Peace Museum, built of light-colored sandstone in the form of a square block (architect Jacques Millet). Its themes are the two world wars and the means of ensuring and preserving peace.
Address: Espace Dwight Eisenhower, BP 6261, F-14066 Caen, France

Jardin de Plantes

In Caen, to the west of the castle is the Jardin des Plantes, a beautifully laid out botanical garden.
The garden began in 1689 by John Callard of Ducquerie, with a few plants in his private garden. Two greenhouses were built in 1860 and the Botanical Institute was built in 1891. Jardin des Plantes did not weather the bombings in 1944 so restoration began and new greenhouses were added in 1988.

St Étienne

In Caen, from Place Malherbe Rue Ecuyère runs west to Place Fontette, with the 18th century Palais de Justice (Law Courts). From here Rue Guillaume-le-Conquérant continues west to the imposing abbey church of St-Etienne or of the Abbaye-aux-Hommes, built by William the Conqueror in 1066 in Romanesque (Norman) style, together with an abbey of which little now remains, in expiation of his sin in marrying within the prohibited degrees. The choir and towers, in Early Gothic style, were added in the 13th century The facade of St-Etienne is particularly fine. In the impressive interior a stone in front of the high altar marks the position of William the Conqueror's tomb, destroyed by Calvinists in 1562.

Adjoining the church on the south are the abbey buildings, largely rebuilt in the 18th century, which were occupied for many years by the Lycée Malherbe and now house the Town Hall. Richly decorated interior (beautiful wrought-iron banisters, fine paneling, large refectory). From the Romanesque cloister there is a fine view of the church towers.

A little way northwest of St-Etienne, on the south side of an attractive churchyard, is the disused church of St-Nicolas (1083-1093), with a fine Romanesque porch and a beautiful apse facing towards the churchyard.

6km/4miles northwest of the town center are the ruins of the Premonstratensian abbey of Ardenne (12th-13th century).

Address: Esplanade Jean-Marie Louvel, F-14000 Caen, France

Caen Cedex - Aspects of Contemporary Music

This annual week-long festival takes place in mid-March and highlights contemporary musicians. In this spirit, numerous living composers are invited to the festival. Five chamber concerts are usually organized every year in the Grand Auditorium. In addition, there are theatrical presentations, art exhibitions and lectures running throughout the festival week.
Address: Théâtre Municipal de Caen, BP 217, F-14007 Caen, France

Memorial de la Bataille de Normandie

Incorporating a variety of modern audio-visual displays, along with a to-scale Typhoon fighter-bomber, the Caen Mémorial museum demonstrates the history of the major 20th C. conflicts. Three films, D-Day, the Liberation of Europe and the Quest for Peace are all on show, each being about an hour in length.
Address: Espace Dwight Eisenhower, BP 6261, F-14066 Caen, France

Château de Canon

A classical temple stands at one end of the woods in the Château de Canon garden while a charming scarlet chinoiserie kiosk hangs over stream at the other end.

Easter Festival

An annual Easter Market is held in April in Caen.
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