Caen (; ; Norman: Kaem) is a commune in northwestern France. It is the prefecture of the Calvados department and the capital of the Basse-Normandie region. The city proper has 113,249 inhabitants (as of 2006), while its urban area has 420,000, making Caen the largest city in Lower Normandy. It is also the second largest municipality in all of Normandy after Le Havre and the third largest city proper in Normandy, after Rouen and Le Havre. The metropolitan area of Caen, in turn, is the second largest in Normandy after that of Rouen, the 21st largest in France.
It is located inland from the English Channel, two hours north-west of Paris, and connected to the south of England by the Caen-(Ouistreham)-Portsmouth ferry route. Caen is located in the centre of its northern region, and it is a centre of political, economic and cultural power. Located a few miles from the coast, the landing beaches, the bustling resort of Deauville and Cabourg, Norman Switzerland or Pays d'Auge, Caen is often considered the archetype of Normandy.
As the city of William the Conqueror, the city has a long and complex history. Caen is known for its historical buildings built during the reign of William, who was buried there, and for the Battle for Caen—heavy fighting that took place in and around Caen during the Battle of Normandy in 1944, destroying much of the city. The city has now preserved the memory by erecting a memorial for peace.
Hundred Years' War
In 1346, King Edward III of England led his army against the city, hoping to loot it. It was expected that a siege of perhaps several weeks would be required, but the army took the city in less than a day, 26 July 1346, storming and sacking it, killing 3,000 of its citizens, and burning much of the merchants' quarter on the Ile Ste-Jean. During the attack, English officials searched its archives and found a copy of the 1339 Franco-Norman plot to invade England, devised by Philip VI of France and Normandy. This was subsequently used as propaganda to justify the supplying and financing of the conflict and its continuation. Only the castle of Caen held out, despite attempts to besiege it. A few days later, the English left, marching to the east and on to their victory at the Battle of Crécy. It was later captured by Henry V in 1417 and treated harshly for being the first town to put up any resistance to his invasion.
Second World War
During the Battle of Normandy in the Second World War, Caen was liberated in early July, a month after the Normandy landings, particularly those by British I Corps on 6 June 1944. British and Canadian troops had intended to capture the town on D-Day. However they were held up north of the city until 9 July, when an intense bombing campaign during Operation Charnwood destroyed 70% of the city and killed 2000 French civilians. The Allies seized the western quarters, a month later than Field Marshal Montgomery's original plan. During the battle, many of the town's inhabitants sought refuge in the Abbaye aux Hommes ("Men's Abbey"), built by William the Conqueror some 800 years before. Both the cathedral and the university were entirely destroyed by the British and Canadian bombing.
Post-Second World War work included the reconstruction of complete districts of the city and the university campus. It took 14 years (1948–1962) and led to the current urbanization of Caen. Having lost many of its historic quarters and its university campus in the war, the city does not have the atmosphere of a traditional Normandy town such as Honfleur, Rouen, Cabourg, Deauville and Bayeux.
The Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit filmed the D-Day offensive and Orne breakout several weeks later, then returned several months later to document the town's recovery efforts. The resulting film, You Can't Kill a City, is preserved in the National Archives of Canada.
The very first mentions of the name of Caen are found in different acts of the dukes of Normandy: Cadon 1021/1025, Cadumus 1025, Cathim 1026/1027. Year 1070 of the Parker manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle refers to Caen as Kadum. Despite a lack of sources as to the origin of the settlements, the name Caen would seem to be of Gaulish origin, from the words catu-, referring to military activities and magos, field, hence meaning "manoeuvre field" or "battlefield". In Layamon's Brut, the poet asserts that King Arthur named the city in memory of Sir Kay.