Caen, a city of north-western France, capital of the department of Calvados, 7½ m. from the English Channel and 149 m. W.N.W. of Paris on the Western railway to Cherbourg. Pop. (1906) 36,247. It is situated in the valley and on the left bank of the Orne, the right bank of which is occupied by the suburb of Vaucelles with the station of the Western railway. To the south-west of Caen, the Orne is joined by the Odon, arms of which water the "Prairie," a fine plain on which a well-known race-course is laid out. Its wide streets, of which the most important is the rue St Jean, shady boulevards, and public gardens enhance the attraction which the town derives from an abundance of fine churches and old houses. Hardly any remains of its once extensive ramparts and towers are now to be seen; but the castle, founded by William the Conqueror and completed by Henry I., is still employed as barracks, though in a greatly altered condition. St Pierre, the most beautiful church in Caen, stands at the northern extremity of the rue St Jean, in the centre of the town. In the main, its architecture is Gothic, but the choir and the apsidal chapels, with their elaborate interior and exterior decoration, are of Renaissance workmanship.

The graceful tower, which rises beside the southern portal to a height of 255 ft., belongs to the early 14th century. The church of St étienne, or l'Abbaye-aux-Hommes, in the west of the town, is an important specimen of Romanesque architecture, dating from about 1070, when it was founded by William the Conqueror. It is unfortunately hemmed in by other buildings, so that a comprehensive view of it is not to be obtained. The whole building, and especially the west façade, which is flanked by two towers with lofty spires, is characterized by its simplicity. The choir, which is one of the earliest examples of the Norman Gothic style, dates from the early 13th century. In 1562 the Protestants did great damage to the building, which was skilfully restored in the early 17th century. A marble slab marks the former resting-place of William the Conqueror. The abbey-buildings were rebuilt in the 17th and 18th centuries, and now shelter the lycée. Matilda, wife of the Conqueror, was the foundress of the church of La Trinité or l'Abbaye-aux-Dames, which is of the same date as St étienne. Two square unfinished towers flank the western entrance, and another rises above the transept.

Queen Matilda is interred in the choir, and a fine crypt beneath it contains the remains of former abbesses. The buildings of the nunnery, reconstructed in the early 18th century, now serve as a hospital. Other interesting old churches are those of St Sauveur, St Michel de Vaucelles, St Jean, St Gilles, Notre-Dame de la Gloriette, St étienne le Vieux and St Nicolas, the last two now secularized. Caen possesses many old timber houses and stone mansions, in one of which, the hôtel d'Ecoville (c. 1530), the exchange and the tribunal of commerce are established. The hôtel de Than, also of the 16th century, is remarkable for its graceful dormer-windows. The Maison des Gens d'Armes (15th century), in the eastern outskirts of the town, has a massive tower adorned with medallions and surmounted by two figures of armed men. The monuments at Caen include one to the natives of Calvados killed in 1870 and 1871 and one to the lawyer J.C.F. Demolombe, together with statues of Louis XIV, élie de Beaumont, Pierre Simon, marquis de Laplace, D.F.E. Auber and François de Malherbe, the two last natives of the town. Caen is the seat of a court of appeal, of a court of assizes and of a prefect.

It is the centre of an academy and has a university with faculties of law, science and letters and a preparatory school of medicine and pharmacy; there are also a lycée, training colleges, schools of art and music, and two large hospitals. The other chief public institutions are tribunals of first instance and commerce, an exchange, a chamber of commerce and a branch of the Bank of France. The hôtel-de-ville contains the library, with more than 100,000 volumes and the art museum with a fine collection of paintings. The town is the seat of several learned societies including the Société des Antiquaires, which has a rich museum of antiquities. Caen, despite a diversity of manufactures, is commercial rather than industrial. Its trade is due to its position in the agricultural and horse-breeding district known as the "Campagne de Caen" and to its proximity to the iron mines of the Orne valley, and to manufacturing towns such as Falaise, Le Mans, etc. In the south-east of the town there is a floating basin lined with quays and connected with the Orne and with the canal which debouches into the sea at Ouistreham 9 m. to the N.N.E. The port, which also includes a portion of the river-bed, communicates with Havre and Newhaven by a regular line of steamers; it has a considerable fishing population.

In 1905 the number of vessels entered was 563 with a tonnage of 190,190. English coal is foremost among the imports, which also include timber and grain, while iron ore, Caen stone[1], butter and eggs and fruit are among the exports. Important horse and cattle fairs are held in the town. The industries of Caen include timber-sawing, metal-founding and machine-construction, cloth-weaving, lace-making, the manufacture of leather and gloves, and of oil from the colza grown in the district, furniture and other wooden goods and chemical products.

Though Caen is not a town of great antiquity, the date of its foundation is unknown. It existed as early as the 9th century, and when, in 912, Neustria was ceded to the Normans by Charles the Simple, it was a large and important place. Under the dukes of Normandy, and particularly under William the Conqueror, it rapidly increased. It became the capital of lower Normandy, and in 1346 was besieged and taken by Edward III. of England. It was again taken by the English in 1417, and was retained by them till 1450, when it capitulated to the French. The university was founded in 1436 by Henry VI. of England. During the Wars of Religion, Caen embraced the reform; in the succeeding century its prosperity was shattered by the revocation of the edict of Nantes (1685). In 1793 the city was the focus of the Girondist movement against the Convention.

See G. Mancel et C. Woinez, Hist. de la ville de Caen et de ses progrès (Caen, 1836); B. Pent, Hist. de la ville de Caen, ses origines (Caen, 1866); E. de R. de Beaurepaire, Caen illustré: son histoire, ses monuments (Caen, 1896).

[1] A limestone well adapted for building. It was well known in the 15th and 16th centuries, at which period many English churches were built of it.