By the Office of Historic Alexandria
Alexandria, VA – On this June 6, we marked the 76th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion of Normandy. The Alexandria-Caen Sister Cities Committee had planned to hold its 10th annual celebration marking that event. Celebrations usually include children’s activities, WWII reenactors and veterans, live music, food, and a wine garden, but the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of this signature event, as well as the summer internship exchanges that have become a regular part of the activities. But while this year’s celebration is canceled, perhaps we can introduce our sister city Caen, France, to you in the interim.
Prior to World War II, Caen was famous as the former seat of William of Normandy. His major architectural achievement was the Chateau de Caen, which started construction in 1060. Not content to wait on the construction of his castle, William invaded England in 1066, to be known ever after as William the Conqueror.
The castle survived the Hundred Year’s War, including a siege by Henry V of England (of Shakespeare and Netflix fame). As Caen was the first French city to resist their invasion, it received particularly harsh treatment from the English. The castle also survived the Second World War, and today it houses two museums and a garden dedicated to the preservation of plant species that existed in the Middle Ages.
Another major institution in our sister city is the University de Caen Normandy. Founded during the English occupation in 1432, the university continues to play a large role in the life of the city, with 28,000 students in the overall population of slightly more than 108,000.
Caen’s World War II history is the main draw to many of its visitors. As the largest city in Lower Normandy, Caen was a major objective of the Allied Forces during the early days of the Normandy invasion. In fact, some outskirts of Caen were secured by Allied forces on June 6, 1944. But the fight for Caen proved to be slow and bloody, and the Allies didn’t control the city until July 9 of that year. Much of the town was destroyed during the battle. An estimated 75 percent of Caen’s buildings were rebuilt over 18 years after the war.
One of the materials of the rebuilding process was the local limestone, known as Pierre de Caen. Due to William the Conqueror’s influence, the Tower of London is also built of Pierre de Caen.
Caen and Alexandria have been sister cities since 1991. But did you know that Caen is also a sister city to Nashville, Tennessee? The cities participate in cultural, educational, and economic cooperative programs. Normally, the Alexandria-Caen Sister Cities Committee hosts lectures, children’s programs, and wine tastings throughout the year. We hope that you will be able to join them again when normalcy resumes.