Abbeys, ducal castle and Memorial, beautiful visits in prospect
In Caen, there is no shortage of cultural visits! First of all, there are two sumptuous abbeys, among the largest in France. The Abbaye aux Hommes is composed of two parts, the conventual buildings and the abbey church of Saint-Etienne. This abbey was founded in 1063 by William the Conqueror, then Duke of Normandy, to house Benedictines. The site is absolutely unmissable as it is the Town Hall of Caen, which has occupied the monastic buildings since 1965. The guards' room, the oldest part of the buildings, houses the town council while weddings are celebrated in the chapter house. The Abbaye aux Dames was built in 1060 by Dom Guillaume de la Tremblaye. Like its male counterpart, the Men's Abbey, it was founded by Matilda and placed under the rule of Saint Benedict. The complex consists of an abbey church, a masterpiece of Norman Romanesque art, the Trinity Church, completed in the 12th century, and conventual buildings rebuilt in the 18th century. After having housed soldiers, a beggar's depot, a Hôtel-Dieu and a hospice, the Abbaye aux Dames has been home to the Basse-Normandie Regional Council since 1983 and to the new Normandy region since 2016. In addition, don't miss a visit to the Saint-Nicolas-sous-Terre crypt, magnificently preserved and the only underground chapel in Caen.
But if there is one thing not to be missed in Caen, it is the castle. It is hard to miss, it is enthroned in the middle of the city, a privileged witness of several centuries of history. It was William the Conqueror who had it built in the middle of the 11th century. Built on a rock barely 30 metres above sea level, it dominated the two valleys that supplied the town with water in 1060. Thanks to this steep escarpment, the castle had a natural fortification to the east. It is quite simply one of the largest castral enclosures in Europe and its ditches have never contained water, as they are deep enough. Inside, you can visit the Logis du Gouverneur which now houses the Musée de Normandie. Today, a large part of the ramparts is also accessible to the public, offering a magnificent view of the city. The ramparts contain a park with sculptures, the Fine Arts Museum, the Normandy Museum and temporary exhibitions in the Exchequer and the rampart rooms. There is the Jardin des Simples, currently being redeveloped, a world of its own in the heart of the city.
Finally, before or after a visit to the D-Day landing beaches, the Memorial is an unmissable visit, an essential place for remembrance tourism in Normandy. Within its walls, you can see a panorama of history from 1918 to the present day, which, unfortunately, leads us to the Second World War, its origins and its stages: the Battle of Normandy, the advance of the Allied forces into France, the history of the Shoah, daily life under the occupation by Nazi Germany... But the historical tour is also enriched with detailed information on the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall and a reflection on peace and the fragility of human rights.
Caen, the city of 100 steeples
Caen has been nicknamed the city of 100 steeples, so it will take you some time to visit all its churches. In the meantime, here is a taste of the most remarkable buildings in Caen. The church of Notre-Dame-de-Froide-Rue, on Place Pierre-Bouchard, built between the 14th and 16th centuries, is worth seeing for its porch with a 15th century flamboyant portal, for its staircase, but also and above all for its two naves, which have the particularity of communicating with one another.
The church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Gloriette, on rue Saint-Laurent, was built by the Jesuits at the end of the 17th century, and has the richest furnishings of any church in the city.
The church of Saint-Etienne-le-Vieux, rue Arcisse-de-Caumont, has suffered, but it draws from its painful history its present beauty. It has preserved its beautiful octagonal lantern tower from the 15th century, as well as an enigmatic statue, which would represent the emperor Constantine.
The church of Saint-Jean, rue Saint-Jean, in flamboyant Gothic style, is impressive
The church of Saint-Julien, rue Malfilâtre, with a particularly modern architecture, was built according to the plans of Henry Bernard between 1954 and 1959
The church of Saint-Michel de Vaucelles, rue de Branville, perched on top of a small hill, was built in the 12th century in Romanesque style. The church was then redesigned in the 16th century. Only the side tower and the nave remain of the original monument.
The church of Saint-Nicolas, in the eponymous street, was built by the monks of the Abbaye aux Hommes. It is one of the few churches to have survived the centuries without undergoing major alterations. It is a remarkable example of Romanesque religious architecture in Normandy.
The Saint-Pierre church, in rue Saint-Pierre, is one of the best known religious buildings in Caen. Its bell tower, built in the 14th century (nearly 80 m high), is superb.
The church of Saint-Sauveur du Marché was built in various stages like most of its sisters. The nave, in flamboyant Gothic style, and the choir, in Renaissance style, date from the end of the 15th century. In short, beautiful visits in perspective before going to enjoy the terraces. What would a Norman holiday be without its famous gastronomic specialities?
When to visit? You can obviously visit Caen all year round, even if the arrival of fine weather is obviously more pleasant
How to get there. By plane (Caen-Carpiquet airport 9 km from the town), by train (Paris Saint-Lazare-Caen connection in 2 hours on the Paris-Cherbourg line) or by car (about 240 km from Paris), everything is possible
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