- Population: 1,422,193
- Pop.density (people per km2): 81
Three principal communes
Caen is a bustling university city that has seen much expansion as its industrial suburbs has had an influx high-tech newcomers in recent years. There is little left of the old city which was bombed on D-day and burned for over a week before it was liberated by the Canadians and then shelled by the Germans. Little remains of the past except for ramparts around the chateau and two great abbeys built by William the Conqueror when he founded the city in the 11th Century. Caen is also the gateway for Ouistreham (15km north of Caen), a minor passenger port for Brittany Ferries to and from Portsmouth, England. For many centuries this port exported a limestone called Caen stone to England.
Cherbourg is a post city and naval base, busy with transatlantic cargo ships and passenger ferries from England and Ireland. It has some busy pedestrian streets and some lively bars but apart from this, many visitors head straight out and onwards.
Alençon is a busy but pleasant town, once renowned for its lace-making industry. During the Norman era it was an important tax-collecting centre. With its Second Empire houses and wrought-iron balconies dating from the 18th Century it retains an atmosphere of genteel wealth.