Angoulême is a commune in southwestern France. It is the capital of the Charente department, in Poitou-Charentes. Based on a plateau overlooking a meander of the Charente River, the city is nicknamed the "balcony of the southwest". The city proper's population is a little less than 50,000 but is the center of an urban area of 110,000 people, stretched over fifteen kilometers from north to south.
When it was the old capital of the Angoumois in the Ancien Régime, Angoulême was a fortified town which was highly coveted due to its position at the center of many roads important to communication, and therefore suffered many sieges. From its tumultuous past, the city, perched on a rocky spur, inherited a large historical, religious and urban patrimony, which attracts a lot of tourists.
Nowadays, Angoulême is the center of an agglomeration which is one of the most industrialised between Loire and Garonne (paper industry in 15th century, foundry and electromechanical engineering until a recent period). It is also a commercial and administrative city, with its own university and a very animated cultural life.
Angoulême is mostly known for its Angoulême International Comics Festival (Festival International de la Bande-dessinée), which receives nearly 200,000 visitors each year.
Angoulême (Iculisma or Ecolisna, later Angoulesme) was taken by Clovis from the Visigoths in 507. In the 9th century, it was invaded and plundered by the Normans.
Angoulême was ruled by counts starting in the 9th century. The most important of the early counts was William Taillefer, whose descendants held the title until the end of the 12th century. Withdrawn from the descendants on more than one occasion by Richard Coeur-de-Lion, the title passed to King John of England at the time of his marriage to Isabella of Angoulême, daughter of Count Adhémar. After becoming a widow, Isabella subsequently married Hugh X of Lusignan in 1220, and the title was passed 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 county came to the house of Orléans. One of its members, Francis I became king of France in 1515 and raised Angoulême to the rank of duchy in favour of his mother Louise of Savoy. Angoulême suffered much during the French Wars of Religion, especially in 1568 after its capture by the Protestants under Coligny.
The duchy, now crown land, thereafter was passed on within the ruling house of France. One of its holders was Charles of Valois, "natural" (or illegitimate) son of Charles IX. The last duke of Angoulême was Louis-Antoine (died 1844), eldest son of Charles X of France.
20th century history
Angoulême was marginally to the west of the demarcation line during World War II, and thus occupied by the Germans. Being on a main railway line with extensive marshalling yards, it was of strategic importance and a target of the French Resistance. Late in the war, Allied aircraft bombed the railway station to disrupt German supply lines to the north, where the battle for Normandy was under way after the invasion by the Allies on D-Day.
A museum in the commune is devoted to the Resistance and the deportations of Jewish and political prisoners. A statue near the station commemorates the deportations to the concentration camps. The survivors of Operation Frankton, 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. This is now the site of a shop featuring British goods. The Monument to the Resistance is in Chasseneuil to the east.