Caen (käN) [key], city (1990 pop. 115,624), capital of Calvados dept., N France, in Normandy, on the Orne River. It is a busy port, canalized (by Napoleon I) directly to the sea. The commercial center of the rich Calvados region, it is highly industrialized, with a thermal power station and extensive steelworks along the Orne; the nearby iron-ore mines are among the largest in France. The city's manufactures include motor vehicle parts, electronic gear, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and paper. Caen's importance dates from the 11th cent., when it was a favorite residence of William I of England (William the Conqueror). During the French Revolution it was a rallying place for the federalists; Charlotte Corday lived there.
The town, an architectural gem, was largely destroyed by bombardment during the Normandy campaign of World War II; the 14th-century Church of St. Peter's lost its famous spire, while the castle of William the Conqueror and the town hall (17th cent.) were destroyed beyond repair. However, three outstanding examples of 11th-century Norman architecture were preserved: the Abbaye aux Hommes [men's abbey], founded by William the Conqueror, who is buried there; the Abbaye aux Dames [women's abbey], founded by Queen Matilda; and the Church of St. Nicholas. The university (founded 1432 and also destroyed) has been rebuilt; in 1964 its technical institute became the National School of Advanced Electronics and Electromechanic Studies. A school of hydrography is also in Caen.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.