Caen Castle is one of the largest medieval complexes in Europe :
Nearly a thousand years on, the town of Caen still identifies strongly with William the Conqueror and its medieval heritage. After all, it was William the Conqueror who invaded England and defeated the English King Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Caen is William the Conqueror’s town and with an area of 5.5 hectares, Caen Château today is one of the largest medieval complexes in Europe and a significant reminder of Caen’s Anglo-Norman history.
William the Conqueror’s Caen
In the mid-11th century, Caen became William the Conqueror’s and Queen Matilda’s preferred home town. With the construction of their Château in Caen, the town became one of the most powerful sites in Normandy not just in terms of the economy politics and the military, but also religion and intellectualism. It is behind the walls of Caen Château that William and his knights plotted and prepared to invade and expel Harold from England.
The castle was used as a barracks during World War II and was seriously damaged. Despite the destruction of much of Caen during WWII, many of William the Conqueror and Queen Matilda’s creations still remain, such as the Abbaye aux Dames and the Abbaye aux Hommes, now home to Caen Town Hall.
These two magnificent abbeys on the north bank of river Orne were built in order to obtain atonement from the Church as William had married his cousin Matilda of Flanders against the will of the Pope. Queen Matilda founded the Ladies’ Abbey dedicated to Saint Trinité in 1060 and William founded the Men’s Abbey dedicated to Saint Etienne in 1063.
A lot of reconstruction work is being carried out at the castle to restore it to its former glory. Restoration of the north-west rampart of William the Conqueror’s castle was completed in the spring of 2006.
Today, the castle serves as a museum and exhibition hall that houses:
- the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen (Museum of Fine Arts of Caen)
- the Musée de Normandie (Museum of Normandy)
- Saint Georges church
- the Échiquier de Normandie (Exchequer of Normandy which was the seat of the Court of Normandy) is used as a temporary exhibition hall
For anyone interested in the detailed history of Caen Castle, the Caen Castle website is a good source of information (www.chateau.caen.fr). The castle is in the city centre and entry is free of charge. The Caen Tourist Office in Place Saint Pierre runs guided tours of William the Conqueror’s town.