Heirs to the Vikings, the Norman dukes reached out as far as the Kingdom of Sicily firmly establishing themselves as powerful rulers. From the year 1050 onwards, it was one of their most famous representatives, William the Conqueror, who was to change Caen's destiny forever.
In atonement for his marriage to his cousin, Matilda of Flanders, Duke William founded two abbeys. One is dedicated to Women, the Ladies' abbey consecrated to the Holy Trinity ; the other, the Men's Abbey is dedicated to Saint-Etienne. Around the same time, he began the construction of the ducal castle. In 1060, William, Duke of Normandy, set out to conquer the British Isles. After the Battle of Hastings, he was crowned King of England.
From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, Caen expanded in times of Peace, building its urban image ; private Italian-style mansions, Saint-Sauveur square and the convent buildings of the two abbeys. In the wake of the poet, François de Malherbe, the city boasted an intense intellectual railroad and canal linking Caen to the sea in 1857.
On June 6th 1944, Caen set its mark on the world stage with the Normandy Landings. From its ashes, the city grew to prove the values of peace, solidarity and human rights, so well reflected today in Caen Memorial Museum.
A Most Unique Stone
Born some 165 million years ago from the fortune of geology, Caen stone is a limestone rock, the qualities of which were acknowledged from Antiquity onwards. Its delicacy, the homogéneity of its grain, its beautiful ochre colour, the ease with which it can be carved, its resistance to frost, indeed those are some of a long list of its qualities. The stone's greatest ambassador was, without any doubt, Duke William, who took it, during the 11th Century, to conquer England. From the estimated 11 million cubic metres, extracted from the city's substrata, some of the most magnificent buildings were to be constructed, beginning, of course, with Caen's two abbeys and castle. Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy, the United States, the Bermuda Islands and Canada are but a few of the visas borne on the passport of this great traveller. Somewhat abandoned at the beginning of the 20th Century, Caen stone is today once again extracted to supply some major restoration sites, amongst which figure Caen's St. Peter's Church and Canterbury Cathedral and Buckingham Palace in England.