Lost In France ~ Day 2
At last we reach the Centre of Caen; we’re a little tired but very excited as it’s one of our favourite holiday destinations. A beautiful city based in North West France, Caen is steeped in history; particularly admired for the great architecture dating back to the 10th Century when William the Conqueror built the Castle. Appropriately ‘Guillaume’- as he is known in Normandy – was also buried here in September 1087 .
As Normandy celebrates its 1100th birthday this year, I thought Caen would be a good place to start on our travels; covering a little of the history as we travel from village to village. From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, Caen evolved during times of Peace; slowly creating its (now urban) image with great Italian style mansions and cathedrals, in addition to the beautiful Saint-Sauver Square and the magnificence of the two abbeys. The city’s historical development culminates in the D-Day landings all along the coasts of Caen and coastal Normandy on June 6, 1944. This is when Caen set its mark on the world stage; fighting for peace and human rights in resistance against the enemy. The evidence of such bravery stands at the Caen Memorial Museum on the outskirts of town, which, along with the castle, we decide to visit on our ‘day 2’ travels.
Le Chateau de Caen
Our first stop of interest brings us to the castle in the centre of the city. As with all other historical buildings within this area, the spectacle of the castle blends beautifully with the surrounding modern buildings. Even the tramways lining the moat area don’t seem out of place somehow; such is the talent of Caennis town-planning.
The boys are very excited as we approach the castle. They fondly remember from previous visits that the area is deliberately child friendly. The castle grounds not only contain an appropriately decorative playground but also a garden of plants cultivated in the middle-ages, which doubles-up as a maze. The upper edges of the ramparts also offer an amazing view covering the whole of Caen and provide a great deal of interest for adults and children alike. I happily let the two boys take to the playground whilst I wander through the castle’s many points of interest.
Built around 1060 by William The Conqueror, the castle has been classed as a ‘Monument Historique’ since 1886. The reason for this title becomes immediately apparent when soaking up the atmosphere. There is a great sense of history within these great walls, and even though part of the upper structure was bombed heavily in the early 1940’s, it’s restoration in 1944 has successfully reclaimed the essence captured in its original form.
Today the Le Chấteau de Caen acts as a museum, housing three other sub-sections of interest within its enormous walls. To the right of the drawbridge, visitors can take a walk around Le Musee Des Beaux Arts De Caen (Museum of Caen’s Fine Arts); this exhibition covers all local art from the Renaissance period right up to Modern Day contemporary art and sculpture. Some modern art also spills out into the grounds themselves; boasting some beautiful contemporary work by Huang Yong Ping. “One Man, Nine Animals” was installed as a park of sculptures in the castle grounds in 2007 and has been awarded the ‘National Museums Prize’ by the French Ministry of Culture.
In addition to the Artistic flavour of interest, there is also a Musếe de Normandie and the beauty of Saint George’s Church also within the grounds of the castle. There is something for almost everyone here ( as well as a bar/restaurant and obligatory gift shop.
All in all, we spend around three hours in the castle, taking in the atmosphere, playing, learning and climbing the ramparts. Everywhere we look, tourists and townspeople alike are enjoying the castle grounds; inside and outside the walls; whether picnicking, taking photos or soaking up some history with the sunshine. With the exception of the Musếe Des Beaux Arts, it’s all free entry.