The historical buildings in Normandy are often quite old. Some of them were started in the 10th and 11th century. In the Netherlands we were then still very busy keeping our feet dry as much as possible. Not here. Here high and dry feudal systems were very much alive and powerful.
One of the powerful places then was Caen. It was there that a man that influenced a lot of history built his keep. Guillaume le conquerant – or William the Conqueror (WtC). Born in nearby Failaise as an illegitimate son to the Duke he felt the need to to make a difference and being who he was he did. Though he was illegitimate he did inherit the dukedom from his father – Dad never married so had no legitimate offspring, so you know he got what he was entitled to. But it was rumoured he had a bit of a need to assert himself because he felt people laughed behind his back or something.
As said in Caen was his keep. and it is still there. It is free to visit as the Castle is being excavated with EU money. The EU then stipulates that if EU money (i.e. the taxes we pay) are used the people paid for it already and need to have access to it. Which of course in cases like this is a bonus. Excavation is still ongoing and new parts are found on a regular basis. It is in fact a great place to visit.
Now you’d think that because WtC had a significant impact on British history by beating Harold of Wessex for the crown and also with that action planted further seeds for the 100 year war, which again, had significant impact on both sides of the channel that they would provide a tour in in English nést-pas? Of course not, don’t be silly.Le tour et en Francais. Sod all other tourists, learn French first, and how not to make friends. Now our French is at a level where we can get what we need and understand the basics, but not a tour like this. We did get a small booklet with about 40 words on the castle (our Lonley Planet had more) and where there was EU paid for information it was in French (with a synopsis in English and German).
So with my history knowledge and the EU paid for information panels we walked around and totally enjoyed the place. I mean it is so easy to see why he chose the place to built a fortress. The living and halls were smaller in his days, but extended later by his descendants. These days the fort also holds two musea. One on Normandy and one art centre. We did not visit those, but it shows that the castle is still a central place in the city.
After this lovely visit we walked toward the only old part of town. Most of Caen was well and truly bombed during the 1944 invasion. The few remaining middle ages streets are now a tourist attraction. All of a sudden those streets close you in. The rest of the city is open, bright and quite nice, but these streets are cobbled together with leaning houses and roofs. Cool though!
These streets were more or less on the way of the Abbey of the ladies (Abbay aux Dames) which was founded by Matilda of Flanders, WtC’s wife. He founded the Abbay aux Hommes. They did s the pope would be happy as these two were second cousins getting married. Anyway, Matilde is also buried there. Why is Mathilde important? Well myth has it she made the Bayeux tapestry commemorating that fateful win in Hastings. It is a myth, most likely she never handled a needle for it. Still she features in the list of interesting historical figures for me because of that myth.
As it was a hot day we’d had enough sunshine by then and went home. Had dinner at home.