Perched on a plateau above a meander in the river Charente, hilly Angoulême is the capital of its department. The town’s splendid architectural muddle attests to a history of conquest and re-conquest stretching back to the sixth century, when the Franks took it from the Visigoths. An industrial powerhouse, Angoulême once manufactured paper for the whole of France, and although only a few mills struggled into the twenty-first century, its survival is still connected to paper through comic strips, illustration and animation.
Wandering the old town and you’ll see brightly coloured comic strips and murals painted on various town walls. Every January 20,000 enthusiasts descend on Angoulême for the International Comics Festival, there is a celebrated animation museum (the Cité Internationale de la Bande Dessinée) and murals decorate shop- and house-fronts through the city.
The old town is a natural hilltop fortress. On the southern edge stands the cathedral, whose west front offers a dense exposition on twelfth-century theology, culminating in a Risen Christ surrounded by angels. A lively frieze beneath the tympanum commemorates the recapture of Spanish Zaragoza from the Moors; a bishop transfixes a Moorish giant with his lance while Roland kills the Moorish king.