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Caen castle and Abbeys

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Caen castle is one of Europe's largest fortified enclosures (5 ha)
Two abbeys:
The Ladies' Abbey founded by Matilda (dedicated to the Holy Trinity)
The Men's Abbey founded by William the Conqueror (dedicated to Saint Stephen)

THE DUCAL CASTLE - Built around 1060 by William the Conqueror to house his ducal palace, Caen castle is one of Europe's largest fortified enclosures (5 ha). Initially a princely residence, then a fortress and military barracks, Caen Castle is today a major cultural site. Its ramparts have been restored many times over the centuries. The Queen Matilda tower offered reinforcement to the south-eastern corner of the enclosure. The Puchot tower, on the north-western corner of the castle rampart, offered protection to the Vilaine gate (Rue de Geôle entrance). The Norman Dukes' Exchequer, which miraculously escaped the 1944 bombings, has since benefited from extensive restoration including archaeological excavation. The church of Saint George is the last remaining vestige of the former parish, the territorial limits of which were set by the castle itself. The choir and the portal were rebuilt after 1450. Saint Peter's gate, the former north entrance, was destroyed around 1220. It became the castle's main entrance in the 13th century. The Porte des Champs gate to the east was very probably built following the destruction of the north gate.
Normandy's incorporation into France, the Hundred Years' War, the Wars of Religion, the French Revolution and the Second World War were to lead to a succession of destructions and reconstructions to offer the fortification its present-day aspect; an impressive medley of edifices and vestiges dating from each period. Finally, archaeological excavation, conducted in 1949 by the Dean Michel de Boüard, unearthed the foundations of the keep and its curtain wall. Following the 1944 bombardments, Marc Brillaud de Laujardière, the architect in charge of the town's reconstruction, integrated the castle as a major feature of his overall urban plan. The castle was developed to comprise a succession of large esplanades serving the role of a vast public garden offering a link between the new town and the university.

THE ABBEYS - The origin of the Men's Abbey is associated with William, Duke of Normandy's marriage with Matilda of Flanders, a marriage that met with the Pope's disapproval in 1053. Under the influence of Lanfranc, a Bec-Hellouin ecclesiastic, the canonical sentence was relieved in 1059 at which time the duke and his wife respectively agreed to found an abbey, as an act of contrition. The Ladies' Abbey, or Holy Trinity, was founded between 1059 and 1065 and dedicated in 1066, whereas the Men's Abbey, or St Stephen's Abbey, founded around 1063 and located on the outskirts of Caen, was dedicated on the 13th of September 1077, in the presence of Lanfranc himself, who had since been appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. Queen Matilda and William the Conqueror are now laid to rest in their respective abbey-churches.
Over the following centuries, both the town of Caen and the Men's Abbey were to experience many a vicissitude. The Abbey was to survive the revolutionary torment thanks to the use of its conventual buildings to house the newly formed département of Calvados administrative headquarters, then the Lycée Impérial in 1804. After the War, the school needed to be extended. A new school was built alongside the Prairie. The Town Council then took up residence in the conventual buildings. The Council's inaugural meeting was held in the chapter house on 16th January 1965. As for the Holy Trinity, the abbey was to prosper up to the 14th century. It was later to experience a number of periods of torment (Hundred Years' War, Wars of Religion, the French Revolution, the Empire…) along with its requisitioning for a number of uses (barrack, hospice...). Progressively rebuilt over the 18th century, the monastic buildings were purchased in 1983 by the Lower Normandy Regional Council. Now restored, they house various Regional Council departments. Restoration work was completed with the rehabilitation of the surrounding park and gardens.

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