Caen is one of the 3 big cities of Normandy over 100 000 inhabitants, with Rouen and Le Havre.
It is really the city that William, Duke of Normandy, not yet the Conqueror, wanted : more centrally positioned in his dukedom than Rouen or Fécamp, usual ducal residences at this time, with a port close to the sea.
It was built on stone-quarries from which until recently a beautiful creamy white dense limestone was extracted : the Caen stone. It was used to build a lot of monuments in Caen, but also around the city, and even in England, Belgium, even in New York and Bermuda !
Although it has been severely damaged in June and July 1944, during Normandy Campaign, a nice and intelligent reconstruction has allowed old monuments to be put in value, in the middle of new suburbs, large avenues and green spaces.
You will discover the two Abbeys built by William the Conqueror and his wife, Queen Mathilda, as a penance for marrying though they were cousins (they were cousins at the fifth degree, and the Church had forbidden weddings between cousins until the sixth degree...) William is buried in the choir of St Etienne church, Abbey of the Men, Mathilda in the choir of Trinity church, Abbey of the Women.
Between the 2 Abbeys, Caen castle rises on top of a rocky outcrop, however only a few elements of the medieval fortress remain ; the keep was almost completely dismantled during the French Revolution.
A few old streets can still be seen, with Renaissance houses, half-timbered or in stone for most of them, and many nice churches, like the flamboyant gothic church St Pierre.