Ville aux cent clochers – The city of one hundred belfries

One of the main streets in Caen.
One of the main streets in Caen.

Un Dieu, un Roy, une Foy, une Loy.  (One God, one King, one Faith, one Law.)

 Well, I decided to start with a motto, because the motto belongs to this place and even though it is not used anymore, I think that it has a soul and the place I will talk about definitely has a vibrant one.

 I’m in the Northern part of France. In Caen. A light creamy-yellowish clean city. I find it very similar to Paris for its elegance and charm but in the same time it’s warmer and more welcoming.

 Out of curiosity, I have checked the meaning of the name and this is what I have found: One who is a warrior. Also means “beautiful” in Welsh. From Celtic it means little battle, in Hebrew – lance, spear and from Hawaiian – man, the eastern sky. It’s a boy name and it’s not in the top 1000. This can be an inspiration for “soon to be moms and dads” when searching for unique baby boys names 🙂

Chateau de Caen
Chateau de Caen

So what’s so special about Caen? The general answer will be that it’s a city at only 10km from La Manche or the English Channel, the burial place of the William the Conqueror, the birth place of the illegitimate son of Henry I of England – Robert, Joël Thomas and Elliot Grandin.

 Traveling opens our eyes and mind and since I started this blog, I learn new things about one or another place I have been to. It’s important to know the history and culture of those places, because you can place that city or that country in a wider context. Knowing some of the “big” names and most important events that happened or about to happen in a specific region can make a good subject for conversation.

Reading about Caen, I have found an interesting detail that emerge from the history of the city. During the “Hundred years war”, event that keeps the feelings between Brits and French cold, after invasion of Caen in 1346 king Edward III of England used a copy of the 1339 Franco-Norman plot to invade England, devised by Philip VI of France and Normandy. This was subsequently used as propaganda to justify the supplying and financing of the conflict and its continuation.

Caen in ruins
Caen in ruins

 The WWII left about 70% of the city destroyed. During those times many of the town’s inhabitants sought refuge in the Abbaye aux Hommes, built by William the Conqueror some 800 years before. The feeling of safety allowed mothers let their children to play in the gardens of this Abbey. Due to massive destructions during the war, the city has lost the ancient feeling. The history of Caen is preserved in the few monuments that survived the bombardments.

 There’s a documentary about Caen during those days. It was filmed  by the Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit. It shows the D-Day offensive and Orne breakout several weeks later, then returned several months later to document the town’s recovery efforts. The title is “You Can’t Kill a City” and is preserved in the National Archives of Canada. You can read more about the Film and Photo Unit here (the link will take you to an article about Chuck Ross – combat cameraman, but you can browse more on the website).

Some cities are called green because of the large surface reserved for parks and green areas, other white – because of the stone color houses are built of.  I have mentioned just at the beginning of this post that Caen is a light yellowish city and this is why. Pierre de Caen, is a light creamy yellow Jurassic limestone quarried near the city of Caen.

At Caen Memorial
At Caen Memorial

The stone was first used in construction in the Gallo-Roman period. Production from open cast quarries stopped and re-started several times.

Some important edifices that were made of or have parts of the construction in Caen Stone are :

  • Caen Memorial
  • Norman Romanesque Church of Saint-Étienne, at the Abbaye-aux-Hommes
  • the Norman Romanesque Church of La Trinité, at the Abbaye-aux-Dames
  • it was used in both the cathedral and castle at Norwich
  • was used extensively in Canterbury cathedral
  • used to build the Tower of London
  • was used by Henry I of England at Reading Abbey
  • examples of Romanesque sculpture in Caen stone are in the collection at the Museum of Reading
  • the north screen on the east wall of the sanctuary at Old South Church in Boston, Massachusetts is built of Caen stone.

 Even though in Caen the list of touristic attraction is short, compared to other cities in France, some are worth to be mentioned and visited.

 The number one is the Castle, Château de Caen, was built by William the Conqueror and is considered to be one of the largest medieval fortresses of Western Europe. The entrance is free of charge, except for the Museum of Fine Arts of Caen and Museum of Normandy.

 There are two Abbeys (for women and men). Me and my boyfriend went only to one of them (to the Abbaye aux-Hommes). They were build by William in repentance for marrying his cousin Mathilda of Flanders and on the Pope’s encouragement.

Abbaye-aux-Hommes
Abbaye-aux-Hommes

 For those who want to visit churches, there are many of them. You’ll convince yourself about this just by walking on the Castle’s walls 😉 Make sure to check their opening hours before you go there. Some of them are opened only in the afternoon. Just to list few of them: Church of Saint-Pierre, Saint Nicolas and Saint Etienne le Vieux. More information about these and other churches you’ll find here.

 If you’re interested in plants and flowers, or simply want to enjoy some time in the middle of a green oasis, then you may be pleasantly surprised to know that there are plenty of such spaces. Some of the most popular are: Botanical Garden, Colline aux oiseaux (Hill of birds) and  Claude de Caen park. You can check all the options here (in French).

Saint Etienne le Vieux Church in Caen
Saint Etienne le Vieux Church in Caen

Another place that is absolutely a must visit is the Memorial for Peace. It was built in 1988, charting the events leading up to and after D-Day. It is an emotional presentation inviting meditation on the thought of Elie Wiesel: “Peace is not a gift from God to man, but a gift from man to himself”. The Memorial includes an exhibit of Nobel Peace Prize winners and another one on Conflict Resolution in different cultures. The ticket price varies, but the full rate is 19 Euros.

In the St. Pierre street, where you can find some absolutely delicious sweets and food, you’ll see one of the oldest houses in Caen. It’s a charming timber-framed house from the 15th century. Along with the Maison des Quatrans in the rue de Geôle, these two houses are the last wooden buildings still standing in Caen today. Pay attention to the house at number 54. The first floor is surmounted by seven small statues: St Michael slaying the dragon; the Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus, St Joseph, St Peter holding the keys to heaven.

Timber-framed house from the 15th century in Caen
Timber-framed house from the 15th century in Caen

If you stay longer in Caen, then make sure to check out this link. The info is in French only (I could not find something in English) and the page is about local markets.

If cooking is not on your “to do list”, then you can  ask a local for recommendations, walk on the streets and choose something from what you find or browse this  12 and 3 lists of locals that will make your tummy happy.

To travel to Caen is simple. This city is at 220km from Paris and Rennes 190km.

If you go by car from Paris, you must take the motorway Normandie – A13 and from Rennes the motorway Bretagne – A84).

To take a train from Paris, you need to go to Saint-Lazare train station. Check here the schedule and fares.

If you’re traveling from abroad or Lyon, then check the Airport of Caen for more information regarding the airline companies, destinations and fares.

Caen is served by the small port of Quisterham. A service operates between Portsmouth, England, and Caen. For more information, go here.

Keen to learn more about Caen? If the answer is yes, then go to: Office de Tourisme de Caen, Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor. Before booking your accommodation, make sure you compare few websites for their offers.

Travel safe and wise!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s