Angers, capital of the ancient county of Anjou, is a hugely likeable, vibrant town which seems to happily straddle the ancient and modern worlds. For fans of heritage tourism, it has two stunning tapestry series, the fourteenth-century Apocalypse and the twentieth-century Le Chant du Monde and the château. Along with its interesting cultural aspects, the city has a strong collection of shops, bars and restaurants as well as some nightlife spots.
The Château d’Angers is a formidable early medieval fortress. The sense of impregnability is accentuated by its dark stone, the purple-brown schist characteristic of western Anjou. The château’s mighty kilometre-long curtain wall is reinforced by seventeen circular towers, their brooding stone offset by decorative bands of pale tufa. Inside are a few miscellaneous remains of the counts’ royal lodgings and chapels, but the chief focus is the astonishing Tapestry of the Apocalypse.
Woven between 1373 and 1382 for Louis I of Anjou, the tapestry was originally 140m long, of which 100m now survives. From the start, it was treated as a masterpiece, and only brought out to decorate the cathedral of Angers on major festival days. The sheer grandeur of the conception is overwhelming but the tapestry’s reputation rests as much on its superb detail and stunning colours, preserved today by the very low light levels in the long viewing hall. If you plan to follow the apocalypse story right through, the English-language audio guide comes in handy, but a Bible would be even better. In brief: the Day of Judgement is signalled by the breaking of the seven seals – note the four horsemen – and the seven angels blowing their trumpets. As the battle of Armageddon rages, Satan appears first as a seven-headed red dragon, then as the seven-headed lion-like Beast. The holy forces break the seven vials of plagues, whereupon the Whore of Babylon appears mounted on the Beast. She is challenged by the Word of God, seen riding a galloping horse, who chases the hordes of Satan into the lake of fire, allowing the establishment of the heavenly Jerusalem. It’s spellbinding, operatic stuff, and will appeal whatever your religious views.