Angoulême Town Hall

Angoulême, France | C.1539

Photo Credit: Accidentally Wes Anderson

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When comedian Eddie Izzard joked that Europe was so flush with castles that everyone had one, he might have been thinking of Château d’Angoulême. Initially constructed as a stronghold back in the 9th Century, the structure would live many lives, be expanded upon, and ultimately be purchased by the town – and thus, in a way, the castle is still owned by all the people of Angoulême.

But why would you need to fortify the area in the first place? Well, Alduin I, founder of the castle, had a pretty good reason: Vikings. During Alduin’s time, the nomadic raiders frequently attacked France. Though the Vikings would settle in the North, convert to Christianity, learn French, and become known as the Normans, they didn’t stray too far from their old ways. The besieging men of the North frequented so often that Alduin’s son adopted the surname, Taillefer, meaning hewer of iron. Legend has it that William II even pierced the opposing king through his chainmail and claimed victory for Angoulême.

Successive Counts and Dukes would call the castle home, making many additions to the buildings along the way. Because of this, the structure is a veritable mixed bag of architectural techniques. But by the early 17th century, the dukes no longer kept residence in the Castle, and instead the Governors moved in. This royal lineage effectively ended with the death of Louis Antoine who was King for approximately 20 minutes before he abdicated the throne and and fled France in exile during the July Revolution.

In 1840, the castle was sold to the town as a municipal building, and over the next three decades, a plan was put in motion to modernize the building while preserving its character. Proposals were submitted by both the senior and junior Paul Abadie, with the latter eventually winning out. Despite the appeal to not change too much, Abadie Jr. would go on to demolish most of the original castle, (“Paul you had one job!”) leaving only the Tour de Lusignan and Valois Tower, both of which remain today. The result was an opulent building in a myriad of styles that saw him go over his initial budget of nearly 900,000 francs, an astonishing figure even 200 years later.

Still, Abadie with his revisionist architecture had an eye for largesse. With a grand staircase and outfitted ballroom, it is no surprise that this jewel of the people of Angoulême also caught the eye of the actual Wes Anderson, who used the building for multiple scenes in his new film, The French Dispatch, alongside several other structures in Angoulême. (Note the interior design during the chess scene, while the courtyard makes an appearance or two as well.)

Of course, not everyone in Angoulême lives in this castle, but to adopt the building as a town hall was an inspired move by the city’s leaders. One that earned the spot the designation of monument historique in 2013. For centuries this stronghold protected the city from Viking attacks, but now it is a stronghold of the republican values that were fought for in the July Revolution – those of libertê, egalité, and fraternité.

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