Breizh Poellrezh SF - Douarañ Santel
Breizh Poellrezh SF - Douarañ Santel

Having arrived from England, courtesy of the ferry, and visited the attractions of Ouistreham/ Riva Bella. You will leave the port on the D514 heading towards the city. On the way, you will see signs on your right directing you to Ranville & Bénouville, if you have time following these signs and you will come to the Pegasus Bridge, a lifting bridge over the Caen Canal, and Café Gondree.

Above: Pegasus Bridge

As you approach the Bénouville Bridge, known today as Pegasus Bridge in memory of the liberators (the insignia of the 6th Airborne Regiment is the winged horse Pegasus), you will see on your right the Café Gondree, the home of a couple who were the first Normans to be liberated on D-Day. On your left you will see a British Centaur Tank mounted on a plinth. On the Ranville side of the bridge, there are parking spaces from where you can walk down to the monument shown above. Close by there are many other monuments and museums, so we would recommend that you allow at least two hours for your visit.

It should be noted that in 1993, as a consequence of increased traffic on the canal, the original bridge was dismantled. Today, it is situated 100 metres from the original site, in the Pegasus Memorial Gardens of Ranville. The replacement bridge over the canal is similar in design to the original, but somewhat larger.

Returning to the main road, you continue towards Caen on what is now the D515. Having crossed the main Paris to Cherbourg road (A13), you enter Caen on Avenue Georges Clemenceau passing on your right Cimetière Nord-Est. You then pass around the north side of the Chateau and arrive in the centre of the city by way of Rue de Géôle. Immediately in front of you is Église Saint Pierre that dates from the 13th century and completed in the 16th century in Renaissance style. Although this is only a parish church, you should allow at least one hour taking in the beauty of this magnificent church that was badly damaged during the Battle of Caen in 1944. This church has been extensively rebuilt and restored, returning it to its former beauty.

Église Saint Pierre from the grounds of the Chateau

It is known that the city, capital of the departmente of Calvados, is situated in a valley on the left bank of the Orne River and stands on the site of a vicus (Hamlet) that dates from the 1st century AD. The name of the city is thought to originate from Catomagos, the name of the original settlement. In 912 AD, it was ceded to the Normans by Charles the Simple.

The city centre is dominated by the Chateau that was started by William Le Batard [Duke of Normandy] (William the Conqueror to you) in 1060 AD. The reason we use this terminology is that William was the bastard son of Robert the Magnificent, Duke of Normandy and Arlette the daughter of Fulbert, a master tanner from Falaise. The chateau was fortified by his son in 1123, then enlarged and reinforced during the next three centuries.

During the 19th century it was used as a barracks for soldiers and was severely damaged during the Battle of Caen in 1944. Since then it has been restored to its former glory.

The line of the ramparts has changed little since the time of William, parts of the walls date from the 12th century but mostly from the 15th.

Please allow at least two hours to visit the chateau and the museums.

The photograph below is the Hotel De Ville, Esplanade Jean-Marie Louvel

Having visited the chateau with its museums, take a stroll down Rue St-Pierre a bustling shopping street with half-timbered buildings that date from the early 16th century. At the far end of the street you come to Esplanade Jean-Marie Louvel, where you will find the Abbaye-aux-Hommes (Abbey for Men). This site includes the Église St-Étienne and the Monastery Buildings that house the Hotel de Ville.

The Église St-Étienne was constructed during the time of William the Conqueror and consecrated by the Archbishop of Avaranches in 1077. It was finally completed in the 13th century, but it was severely damaged during the War of Religion in the 16th century and was carefully restored in the 17th century. In the 19th century it became a parish church and the monastery was converted into a school. It was one of the few buildings that survived unscathed following the Battle of Caen in June/July 1944. As for the Monastery Buildings, these have been occupied by the Hotel de Ville since 1965. We have never seen so many different styles of architecture in such a small area.

Take your time wandering around the cloisters and take particular note of the wood panelling and the ceilings; they are a sight to behold. Also, you should make time to have a look at the LanternTower of the church, then walk through the gardens to see the exquisite ruins of the old church of St-Étienne and the Jesuit church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Gloriette.

Places of Interest

Hotel d’Escoville
This mansion is situated opposite Église Saint Pierre in Rue Saint Jean and houses the Tourist Information Office. It was built in the 16th century as a residence for a wealthy merchant. Climb the stairs to the loggia for a panoramic view of the courtyard.

Abbaye-aux Dames

This abbey situated at the end of Rue des Chaniones, is the sister house to L’Abbaye-aux-Hommes, was founded in 1062 by Queen Matilda. This abbey consists of the Église de la Trinité and the Convent buildings. Again the architecture and decoration span the centuries.

Le Mémorial
Situated between the City Centre and the northern ring road, The Caen Memorial was born out of the desire to create a place for reflecting on wars on the basis of the experience of the memorable events that took place in Caen and the region during the summer of 1944.

Far from concentrating solely on commemoration, the Memorial, a museum for Peace, presents the stakes involved in the Second World War, and the course and significance of the war. Broadening the perspective, the Memorial covers the second half of the century, and shows how the end of World War II did not signal the end of violence, of all types of violence.

Breaking new ground in museum design, services and technologies, the Memorial places the emphasis on emotion and inciting the visitor to think about war and meditate on this phrase of Elie Wiesel: "Peace is not a gift from God to man, but a gift from man to himself".

To visit the Memorial is to keep an appointment with history and to understand that we are not mere onlookers but personally involved, however small a part we have to play.

The Mémorial is open daily from 9AM and the admission charge is 18€, entry is free for the following people: All veterans, all persons with disability resulting from war, and civilian disabled persons with over 50% disability, war widows and children under 10. Allow 3 hours for your visit.

Jardin des Plantes
Located on Place Blot, this botanical garden, is open all year round and admission is free, a real living museum, presenting a collection of Normandy flora, medicinal plants, rockeries, exotic greenhouse specimens and a whole range of garden plants.

Regional Commercial Centre – Mondeville 2
A massive shopping complex on the eastern outskirts of the city, about a 15-minute drive, has over 100 retail outlets and parking for 6000 cars..

Finally our special thanks to Paul Wren for granting us permission to use his photographs.

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