Established in 1988 and dedicated to peace, the Caen Memorial (Le Mémorial de Caen, un musée pour la paix) is regarded as the best World War II museum in France.
Located on the northern outskirts of Caen in Normandy, the Caen Memorial also includes guided tours to the D-Day beaches and exhibits on other failures and triumphs of peace, such as September 11th and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
History of the Caen Memorial
Built on the site of an old bunker, the Caen Memorial was inaugurated on June 6, 1988 (the 44th anniversary of D-Day) by President François Mitterrand. It was later expanded by President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.
What to See at the Caen Memorial
The Caen Memorial is a stark rectangular structure located 10 minutes from the Pegasus Bridge and 15 minutes from the D-Day beaches.
The museum is entered through a small door in a long flat facade, which symbolizing the Allies' breach of the "impregnable" Nazi Atlantic Wall. Inscribed in French across the facade are the verses:
This opens into a spacious lobby, where the award-winning amenities of the museum are located: a large bookshop, library, cafe, children's play area, and more. Above the lobby hangs a 1941 Hawker Typhoon used by the RAF.
The museum itself is entered via a descending spiral staircase - symbolizing the descent into the hell of war - lined with photographs illustrating the rise of Nazi power.
Inside, the main exhibits include: spectacular video presentations of D-Day or Jour J (showing the events from Allied and German perspectives on a split-screen); models of bunkers, battleships and battlefields; artifacts from the French Resistance; and a tribute to the Holocaust.
A new wing added in 2002 houses exhibits on the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the development of the atomic bomb and the attacks of September 11, 2001. The Caen Memorial was the first museum outside of the United States to display artifacts from 9/11.
The last section visitors encounter in the museum, added in 1991 and housed in an old bunker, is dedicated to the ongoing movement for peace. It includes a Gallery of Nobel Peace Prizes, celebrating such figures as Andrei Sakharov, Elie Wiesel and Desmond Tutu.
The museum includes extensive tranquil gardens, which commemorate the Allied forces and wordlessly illustrate the ideal of peace: the Garden of Canada; the American Garden; and recently the British Garden, donated by Prince Charles in 2004.
Overall, the Caen Memorial provides a thought-provoking meditation on the evils of war, the importance of learning from past failures and successes, and the difficulty but necessity of finding lasting peace.
The museum also runs daily, eight-person minivan guided tours of the D-Day beaches, which begin at the museum or the Caen train station.
Quick Facts on the Caen Memorial
|Names:||Caen Memorial · Mémorial de Caen|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||49.197322° N, 0.383985° W|
|Address:||Esplanade General Eisenhower B.P. 55026|
|Phone:||(0)2 31 06 06 45|
Open until 8pm mid-July to mid-Aug
Closed Jan 1-30 and Dec 25.
|Lodging:||View hotels near the Caen Memorial|
- Le Memorial de Caen - official website
- Mémorial - Fodor's France
- Mémorial de Caen - French Wikipedia
- Photos of the Caen Memorial - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of the Caen Memorial
Below is a location map and aerial view of the Caen Memorial. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.