The Pierre de Caen stone, or simply Caen stone, is a material that is very present in our popular culture’s imaginary, in spite being hard to find. The name itself doens’t give much away, but if we do a quick research we’ll find that the stone comes from the city of Caen, in the French north western region of Normandy. Naturally, Caen’s oldest and most beautiful buildings are built with this stone as the base material, using local resources. The Abbey of Saint-Étienne, also known as the Men’s Abbey, currently used as the city hall, the Abbey of Saint-Trinité, currently used as the Regional Council of Lower Normandy, the Caen Memorial Museum or the Château de Caen are some exemples.
However, this material gained more popularity outside France. In fact, William I the Conqueror, natural from Normandy, who conquered England, ordered the construction of some of London’s most emblematic buildings, using Pierre de Caen stone, of course. Besides this, he also established an international exporting market focused on this product, so it could reach other regions of the world. Thaks to the Caen limestone we are able to enjoy Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London. This international expansion that highlghted the value of the Caen limestone is also visible in Eton College, Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London, the Cologne Cathedral in Germany, Brussel’s Royal Palace and even across the ocean in St. Louis, Missouri, in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and in many of the city’s older buildings.
After the Pierre de Caen stone spread internationally France stopped exploiting it. However, nowadays, the city of Caen is extracting its most emblematic material once again. This gives people the chance of adding and using it as a very exlusive decorative element, as long they can afford it, of course. This ivory white limestone clearly has a strong classic character that has won over the heart of many historic great European cities, present in romanesque, gothic and medievel architecture, all of these representative of the Pierre de Caen.
Futhermore, there are several modern constructions of great importance that have different elements imitating Caen stone. This shows how relevant the material is to achieve an aesthetically pleasant result in construction. We see this in New York’s Grand Central Terminal, a magnificent building in size and in design with an incomparable style that, despite the greatness of its architecture, couldn’t be made with real Caen stone and an imitation had to be used instead. Being able to use this meterial again is a luxury and will give whatever building it decorates a higher status.
Now we focus again on the Pierre de Caen’s colors, primarily white, combining with every possible chromatic varietiey, which increases greatly its design and architecture possibilities. The Caen stone is a limestone with ochre hues, and goes well with materials such as wood, metal or any other that might stand out in a warmer color range. Reflecting materials (like glass, metal or mirror) can also work well with Caen stone and help make it the protagonist as something unique and scarce.
This color-scheme doesn’t entail a problem when combining different chromatic varieties given that, as we have alredy mentioned, it’s of a white toned shade. The prominent white color is the departing point of endless design, decoration and building options. For example, Caen stone can be used in a private residence to make a space cozy, confortable and warm. In a raw state the stone can also help give a more rural and countryside style. The possibilities are endless, going from luxurious and impressive spaces to basic home-style decorating.
Pierre de Caen’s Maritime Origin
This stone formed during the Middle Jurassic period, when the waters rose the most. To form properly it needs the sea not to be too deep (similar to a mangrove). Moreover, different marine fossils have been found in the stone during this same time period.
The Pierre de Caen is lime-filled and thin, perfect for sculpture. Working with this material means manipulating a product that has taken millions of years to form completely and is practically a privilege to enjoy it.
The History of the Caen Stone: Scarce and Exclusive
Even thought this product has been exploited since the Gallo-Roman period, it wasn’t until the eleventh century that the material reached its splendour. World War II meant a step back in the commercialization of the Caen stone, as the city of Caen was the battle ground of one the war’s most important battles between French and German troops. During this time the city’s quarries were used as shelters by the French soldiers against Nazi attacks, which, obviously, made extractions impossible. After the war the quarries went back to their normal activity, although they would stop again in the 60s when a much more economical stone from the same área, the Oise limestone, became their main competition.
In 1986 one the quarries exceptionally reopened to extract 2.000 cubic meters of rock, of which 800 would be used to build the Caen Memorial Museum. The legal procedures to reopen the quarry permanently and restart economic activities didn’t start until 2003. Afterwards, and since 2004, we can enjoy again the Pierre de Caen stone as a material to renovate historic buildings and to build new ones.
However, the Caen stone production is still very restricted and barely reaches 9.000 tones per year. This explains why it’s considered so unique and exclusive. Enjoying a construction with these materials is not only a delight for anyone admiring it, but also a great responsability for the person in charge of designing the project and the space.
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