It is located 15 kilometres inland from the English Channel, two hours north-west of Paris, and connected to the south of England by the Caen--Portsmouth ferry route. Caen is located in the centre of its northern region, and it is a centre of political, economic and cultural power. Located a few miles from the coast, the landing beaches, the bustling resorts of Deauville and Cabourg, Norman Switzerland and Pays d'Auge, Caen is often considered the archetype of Normandy.
Caen is known for its historical buildings built during the reign of William the Conqueror, who was buried there, 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 city. The city has now preserved the memory by erecting a memorial and a museum dedicated to peace, the Memorial de Caen.
Gules, a single-towered open castle Or, windowed and masoned sable.
Under the Ancien Régime: Per fess, gules and azure, 3 fleurs de lys Or.
During the First French Empire: Gules, a single-towered castle Or, a chief of Good Imperial Cities (gules, 3 bees Or).
Today, Caen has no motto, but it used to have one, which did not survive the French Revolution. As a result, its spelling is archaic and has not been updated:
Un Dieu, un Roy, une Foy, une Loy.
(One God, one King, one Faith, one Law.)
This motto is reflected in a notable old Chant royal.
Caen's home port code is CN
In 1346, King Edward III of England led his army against the city, hoping to loot it. It was expected that a siege of perhaps several weeks would be required, but the army took the city in less than a day, on 26 July 1346, storming and sacking it, killing 3,000 of its citizens, and burning much of the merchants' quarter on the Ile Ste-Jean. During the attack, English officials searched its archives and found 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. Only the castle of Caen held out, despite attempts to besiege it. A few days later, the English left, marching to the east and on to their victory at the Battle of Crécy. It was later captured by Henry V in 1417 and treated harshly for being the first town to put up any resistance to his invasion.
During the Battle of Normandy in the Second World War, Caen was liberated from the Nazis in early July, a month after the Normandy landings, particularly those by British I Corps on 6 June 1944. British and Canadian troops had intended to capture the town on D-Day. However they were held up north of the city until 9 July, when an intense bombing campaign during Operation Charnwood destroyed 70% of the city and killed 2,000 French civilians. The Allies seized the western quarters, a month later than Field Marshal Montgomery's original plan. During the battle, many of the town's inhabitants sought refuge in the Abbaye aux Hommes ("Men's Abbey"), built by William the Conqueror some 800 years before. Both the cathedral and the university were entirely destroyed by the British and Canadian bombing.
Post-Second World War work included the reconstruction of complete districts of the city and the university campus. It took 14 years (1948–1962) and led to the current urbanization of Caen. Having lost many of its historic quarters and its university campus in the war, the city does not have the atmosphere of a traditional Normandy town such as Honfleur, Rouen, Cabourg, Deauville and Bayeux.
The Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit filmed the D-Day offensive and Orne breakout several weeks later, then returned several months later to document the city's recovery efforts. The resulting film, You Can't Kill a City, is preserved in the National Archives of Canada.
The very first mentions of the name of Caen are found in different acts of the dukes of Normandy: Cadon 1021/1025, Cadumus 1025, Cathim 1026/1027. Year 1070 of the Parker manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle refers to Caen as Kadum, and year 1086 of the Laud manuscript gives the name as Caþum. Despite a lack of sources as to the origin of the settlements, the name Caen would seem to be of Gaulish origin, from the words catu-, referring to military activities and magos, field, hence meaning "manoeuvre field" or "battlefield". In Layamon's Brut, the poet asserts that King Arthur named the city in memory of Sir Kay.
Caen is in an area of high humidity. The Orne River flows through the city, as well as small rivers known as les Odons, most of which have been buried under the city to improve urban hygiene.
Caen is 10 km (6 mi) from the Channel. A canal (Canal de Caen à la Mer) parallel to the Orne was built during the reign of Napoleon III to link the city to the sea at all times. The canal reaches the English Channel at Ouistreham. A lock keeps the tide out of the canal and lets large ships navigate up the canal to Caen's freshwater harbours.
Caen has an oceanic climate that is slightly mildened due to its somewhat inland position. In spite of this, summers are still cool by French standards and is a typical maritime climate in terms of high precipitation, relatively modest sunshine hours and mild winters.
The castle, Château de Caen, built circa 1060 by William the Conqueror, who successfully conquered England in 1066, is one of the largest medieval fortresses of Western Europe. It remained an essential feature of Norman strategy and policy. At Christmas 1182, a royal court celebration for Christmas in the aula of Caen Castle brought together Henry II and his sons, Richard the Lionheart and John Lackland, receiving more than a thousand knights. Caen Castle, along with all of Normandy, was handed over to the French Crown in 1204. The castle saw several engagements during the Hundred Years' War (1346, 1417, 1450) and was in use as a barracks as late as the Second World War. Bullet holes are visible on the walls of the castle where members of the French Resistance were shot during the Second World War. Today, the castle serves as a museum that houses the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen (Museum of Fine Arts of Caen) and Musée de Normandie (Museum of Normandy) along with many periodical exhibitions about arts and history.Wayback Machine (archived 13 February 2006))
In repentance for marrying his cousin Mathilda of Flanders, William ordered two abbeys to be built on the Pope's encouragement:
Recent Mayors of Caen have included:
In 1952, the small commune of Venoix became part of Caen.
In 1990, the agglomeration of Caen was organized into a district, transformed in 2002 into a Communauté d'agglomération (Grand Caen (Greater Caen), renamed Caen la Mer in 2004), gathers 29 towns and villages, including Villons-les-Buissons, Lions-sur-mer, Hermanville-sur-mer, which joined the Communauté d'agglomération in 2004. The population of the "communauté d'agglomération" is around 220000 inhabitants.
In the former administrative organisation, Caen was a part of 9 cantons, of which it was the chief town. These cantons contained a total of 13 towns. Caen gave its name to a 10th canton, of which it was not part. Since the 2015 canton reorganization, Caen is part of the cantons of Caen-1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.
Caen has a recently built, controversial guided bus system—built by Bombardier Transportation and modelled on its Guided Light Transit technology. Faced with the residents' anger against the project, the municipality had to pursue the project with only 23% of the population in favour of the new form of transport. The road layout of the city centre was deeply transformed and the formerly traffic-jam-free centre's problems are still unresolved. The systems will be abandoned by the end of 2019.
Caen also has a very efficient network of city buses, operated under the name Twisto. The city is connected to the rest of the Calvados département by the Bus Verts du Calvados bus network.
Caen - Carpiquet Airport is the biggest airport in Lower-Normandy considering the number of passengers that it serves every year. Most flights are operated by HOP! and Chalair Aviation and the French national airline Air France operates three daily flights to the French city of Lyon. Flybe also operate year-round services to London-Southend. In the summer there are many charter flights to Spain, Germany, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.
Caen is served by the small port of Ouistreham, lying at the mouth of the Caen Canal where it meets the English Channel. A ferry service operates between Portsmouth, England, and Caen/Ouistreham running both standard roll-on-roll-off car ferries and supercat fast ferries, with the latter making crossing from March to November. The ferry terminal is 15 km (9.3 mi) from Caen with a daytime shuttle bus service for foot passengers.
Caen is connected to the rest of France by motorways to Paris (A13), Brittany (A84) and soon to Le Mans (A88–A28). The A13 is a toll road while the A84 is a toll-free motorway. The city is encircled by the N814 ring-road that was completed in the late 1990s. The N13 connects Caen to Cherbourg and to Paris. A section of the former N13 (Caen-Paris) is now D613 (in Calvados) following road renumbering. The N814 ring-road includes an impressive viaduct called the Viaduc de Calix that goes over the canal and River Orne. The canal links the city to the sea to permit cargo ships and ferries to dock in the port of Caen. Ferries which have docked include the Quiberon and the Duc de Normandie.
Although a fraction of what it used to be remains, Caen once boasted an extensive rail and tram network. From 1895 until 1936, the Compagnie des Tramways Electriques de Caen (Electrical Tramway Company of Caen) operated all around the city. Caen also had several main and branch railway lines linking Caen railway station to all parts of Normandy with lines to Paris, Vire, Flers, Cabourg, Houlgate, Deauville, Saint-Lô, Bayeux and Cherbourg. Now only the electrified line of Paris-Cherbourg, Caen-Le Mans and Caen-Rennes subsist with minimal services.
The agricultural and food-processing Agrial cooperative has its head office on Caen. Agrial group processes vegetables, cider apples, milk, poultry and meat with the help of its 12,000 employees and all its partners.
The Théâtre de Caen (1963) is the home of the Baroque musical ensemble Les Arts Florissants. The organization was founded by conductor William Christie in 1979 and derives its name from the 1685 opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier.
Caen was the birthplace of:
From 1947 to 2006, Caen was a stage of the Tour de France a total of 15 times. Further, Caen was one of the hosts of the EuroBasket 1983. The city has a football team, SM Caen.