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Angoulême

[ahn-goo-lem]
Angoulême is a commune in western France, capital of the Charente department.

History

Angoulême (Iculisma or Ecolisna, later Angoulesme) was taken by Clovis from the Visigoths in 507, and plundered by the Normans in the 9th century.

In 1360 it was surrendered by the Treaty of Brétigny to the English; they were, however, expelled in 1373 by the troops of Charles V, who granted the town numerous privileges. It suffered much during the French Wars of Religion, especially in 1568 after its capture by the Protestants under Coligny.

The county of Angoulême dated from the 9th century, the most important of the early counts being William Taillefer, whose descendants held the title till the end of the 12th century. Withdrawn from them on more than one occasion by Richard Coeur-de-Lion, it passed to King John of England on his marriage with Isabel, daughter of Count Adhémar, and by her subsequent marriage in 1220 to Hugh X passed out to the Lusignan family, counts of Marche. On the death of Hugh XIII in 1302 without issue, his possessions passed to the crown. In 1394 the countship came to the house of Orleans, a member of which, Francis I, became king of France in 1515 and raised it to the rank of duchy in favour of his mother Louise of Savoy. The duchy, now crown land and only nominally a duchy, thereafter was passed on within the ruling house of France, one of its holders being Charles of Valois, natural son of Charles IX. The last duke was Louis-Antoine, eldest son of Charles X, who died in 1844.

Angoulême was marginally to the west of the demarcation line during World War II, and thus occupied by the Germans. Being on the main railway line with extensive marshalling yards it was of strategic importance and the scene of much resistance activity. The railway station was bombed by the Allies (American B-25's) late on in the war with the object of disrupting German supply lines to the north where the battle was raging in Normandy. There is a museum devoted to the Resistance and deportations. A statue stands near the station to commemorate deportations to the concentration camps. The survivors of the so-called "Cockleshell Heroes", notable for their daring raid by canoe on the German U-Boat base at Bordeaux, made their escape across country to a safe house at Ruffec just north of Angoulême, now the site of a British shop, and the Monument to the Resistance is at Chasseneuil to the east.

Geography

Angoulême is located 134 km or N.N.E. of Bordeaux on the railway between Bordeaux and Poitiers.

The town proper occupies an elevated promontory, washed on the north by the Charente and on the south and west by the Anguienne, a small tributary of that Ocean. The more important of the suburbs lie towards the east, where the promontory joins the main plateau, of which it forms the north-western extremity. The countryside to the north and west is rather flat agricultural land, whereas to the east and south it is more forested and attractively hilly, being the north-west extremity of the Perigord Vert.

Sights

In place of its ancient fortifications, Angoulême is encircled by boulevards above the old city walls, known as the Remparts, from which fine views may be obtained in all directions. Within the town the streets are often narrow and apart from the cathedral and the hôtel de ville the architecture is of little interest to the purists. However, the "old town" has been preserved, maintained and largely pedestrianised, and is now a charming cobbled restaurant quarter, with some interesting galleries and boutiques, much appreciated by locals and visitors.

Angoulême Cathedral, dedicated to Saint Peter, a church in the Byzantine-Romanesque style, dates from the 11th and 12th centuries, but has undergone frequent restoration, and was partly rebuilt in the latter half of the nineteenth century by the architect Paul Abadie. The façade, flanked by two towers with cupolas, is decorated with arcades filled in with statuary and sculpture, the whole representing the Last Judgment. The crossing is surmounted by a dome, and the extremity of the north transept by a fine square tower over . high.

The hôtel de ville, also by Abadie, is a handsome modern structure, but preserves two towers of the chateau of the counts of Angoulême, on the site of which it is built. It contains museums of paintings and archaeology. [Hotel de Ville:

Tours of the town also include the "murs peints", the various walls painted in street-art cartoon style, a feature of Angoulême and related to its association with the "bande dessinée", the comic strip. The attractive covered market "Les Halles", on the site of the old Jail, was restored and refurbished in 2004 and is a central part of city life.

Economy

Angoulême is a centre of the paper-making and printing industry, with which the town has been connected since the 14th century. Most of the mills are situated on the banks of the watercourses in the neighbourhood of the town. Cardboard for packaging, as well as fine vellum for correspondence have been produced in quantity, but the best known export is RIZLA+ cigarette roll-up paper, named after riz (rice paper) and LaCroix, after Monsieur LaCroix the founder. "Le Nil" is another local brand of roll-up paper, named, not after the Nile in Egypt, but a small tributary of the Charente River. Papermaking is favoured because of the uniform temperature and volume of the water year-round, partly due to the River Touvre, which joins the Charente River at Angoulême. This is the second largest underground source in France after the River Sorgue (La Fontaine de Vaucluse). It is a bizarre sight to see The Touvre, a full-blown river, emerging from the head of the valley at Ruelle. There is a trout fishery at the source and a pumping station to supply the drinking water needs of Angoulême.

The economy of the modern town also relies on its various festivals. For example, the printers and paper-makers, whose industry relied on intricate machinery, became skilled mechanics and amongst the first to become fascinated with the motor car in the late 19th Century. Motor trials were held regularly, starting on the long straight road through Puymoyen, now a suburb. Monsieur LaCroix (RIZLA+) was a celebrated motorcycle racer. The Paris-Madrid road race of 1903, notorious for its cancellation due to the large number of deaths, passed through Angoulême. Marcel, one of the brothers Renault, was one of the victims, the spot now marked by a memorial. The town has been closely associated with motor trials and racing, the Circuit Des Remparts (see below) being re-enacted annually, the last such street-racing circuit in France, besides Pau (and Monaco). As well as local heroes, famous racing drivers such as Fangio, Gonzalzes, Wimille, Veyron and Trintignant were regular visitors, and the mythical cars they drove frequently appear at the modern event. The hotel and restaurant trade receives a considerable boost at this time

The subsidiary industries, such as the manufacture of machinery, electric motors and wire fabric, are of considerable importance, Angoulême being the most inland navigable port on the Charente River, the traditional river boat being the Gabare. Iron and copper founding, brewing, tanning, and the manufacture of gunpowder, confectionery, heavy iron goods, gloves, boots and shoes (including the traditional "pantoufle" carpet slippers) and cotton goods are also carried on. Commerce is active in wine, Cognac and building-stone.

Angoulême is reputed to have the largest square-footage of supermarket ("grand surface") area per head of population in all France, and has at least six hamburger restaurants (four Macdonalds and two Quick)!

Transportation

The main line of the Paris-Bordeaux railway passes through a tunnel beneath the town and is due for large scale refurbishment to reduce journey times still further. The new high speed link between Tours and Bordeaux has been approved and will by-pass the town centre to the West. It is due to open in 2013.

Angoulême Brie-Champniers airport, newly named Angoulême-Cognac airport is situated 9.5km NE of the city centre in Champniers, just off the N10. In spite of the termination of the air service to Lyon, the airport is undergoing improvement, with the runway extended 50 metres to accommodate the Boeing 737. The terminal is having a new restaurant and shops added in order to greet flights from the UK budget airlines in Spring 2008. As of Sept 08 Ryanair flies 3 x a week from Stansted (summer only) on Tues, Thurs & Sat. The airport has a bar but no other facilities.

City of Festivals

Angoulême, along with paper and printing, has long been associated with animation, illustration and the graphic arts. The national Musée de la Bande Dessinée (comic strip museum, the CNBD) is situated in an ambitious paper-mill conversion down by the river. A new museum dedicated to the motion picture opens Summer 2007 at the newly restored "chais" on the riverside at Saint Cybard. The famous Angoulême International Comics Festival takes place for a week every year in January and receives nearly a quarter of a million visitors from around the world.

Smaller, yet most influential is FITA, held each December. FITA stands for Forum International des Technologies de l’Animation – International Forum for Animation Technologies. The event was started in 1998. The purpose of the event is to gather 250 – 300 French professionals from animation, effects, post-production and game development studios – SFX supervisors, head of studios, animators, technical directors - to come and listen to internationally renowned speakers on the latest advances and new ideas in entertainment technology. Speakers from Hollywood and beyond are attracted not only by the opportunity to speak, but also to experience the old world charm of the city.

The Circuit Des Remparts motor racing event, with its historic street circuit around the ramparts and past the Cathedral, is re-enacted on the Sunday of the mid weekend in September, and is the world's largest gathering of pre-war Bugatti racing machines, usually around 30 cars of fabulous value, many being examples of the legendary T35, the Ferraris of their day, which their owners "demonstrate" at full speed around the twisting cicuit, complete with hairpin bends and hillclimbs. British vintage and classic cars are also in abundance, most having been driven to the event. The Saturday of the "Remparts" weekend includes a "touristic" rally (as opposed to a speed event) for classic and sporting cars, around the picturesque Cognac growing area. Tickets include a big lunch and a large party and prize-giving in Les Halles in the evening.

With the Gastronomades festival at Christmas, Music Metisse in May and Piano de Valois in October, Angoulême truly lives up to its name "City of Festivals".

A new exhibition centre (Le Parc Des Expos) and a new shopping mall at the Champ de Mars in the town centre (opening Sept/Oct 2007) are the latest additions to a rapidly growing city.

Angoulême is the seat of a bishop, a prefect, and an Assize court. Its public institutions include tribunals of first instance and of commerce, a council of trade-arbitrators, a chamber of commerce and a branch of the Bank of France. It also has a lycée, training-colleges, a school of artillery, a library and several learned societies.

Angoulême was the finish of Stage 18 and Stage 19 (ITT) in the 2007 Tour de France.

Miscellaneous

Births

Angoulême was the birthplace of:

Twin towns

Angoulême is twinned with:

See also

Sources, external links and references

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