Caen is allegedly the only departmental capital in France which was not also a Roman town. It was established at the confluence of the Orne and Odon.

It first reached importance as William the Conqueror’s capital. At the time it was a small place at the confluence of the Odon and Orne rivers, but well placed within Normandie and with a port. William built a chateau or fortress, and two Benedictine abbeys (built to placify the pope, Nicholas II, who had opposed his marriage to his cousin, Mathilde - the Abbaye aux Hommes in the west, and the Abbaye aux Dames in the east), and made Caen into a center of the Norman domains, which later included England.

Separate districts grew around these original buildings. The Bourg le Duc (Bourg le Roi après 1066) grew around the chateau. TheBourg l'Abbé and the Bourg l'Abbesse grew around the two abbeys. Otherwise, Saint Jean was situated between the arms of the RiverOdon and Vaucelles was on the other side of the river. This original structure, with the same boundaries, has been preserved in Caen today. And since its origins, the markets have always been held every week in the same places.

Caen was a strategic town in Normandy which was due originally to be captured on D-Day itself (early government reports on June 6. tried to suggest that Caen was just about to be captured). However, it was only actually taken during the period of 9-20 July amid heavy fighting - much of the town was destroyed.

Nevertheless, some of the old town does still survive, including the two abbeys (the chateau did have to be restored).

The French entered Caen, without resistance, in 1204, and all of Normandy had been retaken by them by the following year.

The English returned during the 100 Years War. In 1346 Edward III pillaged Caen, after which the French king ordered the fortifications to be strengthened.

In 1348/49 the plague arrived (and again in 1362).

A later English wave came under the Lancastrian Dynasty. Henry 4. besieged the town in 1417, leading to an occupation that was to last until 1450. During this period, in 1432, Henry V. founded the University.

After 15 days of siege, the French regained the city in 1450, under Charles VII. It appears that the English had been negligent in maintaining the town's defenses.

1467 Bretons

1477-1483, the plague


On 5. January 1789, a riot erupted after a traditional cake was banned

August 1789 Belsunce the keeper of the chateau, was lynched.

Caen has supported the Federalis Movement, but by the end of July 1793, Caen submitted to the Convention. Gilbert Romme

The 18. Century particularly (carrying on from some work in the 17th. century) was a period of intense construction. The principal monuments were restored, particularly the two abbeys, and squares were created - for example Place Royale, now Place de la République, and certain roads enlarged.

1832, 1849, 1854 outbreaks of cholera. Another outbreak in 1865/66. In 1870/71 there was an outbreak of smallpox.

After 1854, the Odon began to be covered over. Sewers

1855 Railway arrived, linking Caen with Paris

1857 Caen Canal (begun in 1838) On building Bassin St. Pierre (1880s), some stretches of Odon covered. Boulevard du Théâtre, Boulevard Saint-Pierre

1910 1926 Flooding of the Orne

1936 Tramway closed down (installed 1895)

18 June 1940 German troops arrive. On the 23 June the Kommandantur is installed in the Hotel de Ville. The Gestapo operate from the Rue des Jacobins.

9. July 1944 Allies bomb the town, causing 75% of Caen to be destroyed. The re-building takes 15 years. The Allies take the town, but Carpiquet Airport and Vaucelles remain in German hands until mid-August. 4000 people are killed in this action.

Two main thoroughfares between Orne and chateau, La rue Saint Jean (although following closely the old rue Exmoisine) and l'avenue du six-juin. Ponte du Marché, Ponte Saint-Martin now Place saint-Martin Pesmagnie

Plans of Caen Thru the Ages

La ville se développe ensuite pour presque quadrupler sa population d'avant guerre.