Poitiers (pop 91,400) is a hilltop city that might seem nondescript from a distance. However, move closer and you will captivated by its ‘country’ charm and rich heritage. The capital of the Vienne department was founded by the Pictones (a Gaulish tribe) and developed by the Romans. It gained prominence during the Middle Ages, when it became the capital of the Poitou region-governed by the Counts of Poitiers. During this period, the city saw the Battle of Tours, when the city successfully fended of Muslim attacks on France (732) and the Battle of Poitiers, when the city fell to the English temporarily during the Hundred Years War (19 September 1356). Poitiers was soon returned to France and it was quickly updated by becoming a temporary home to the royal parliament in 1418; and the site of its first university in 1431.

By the 16th century, Poitiers had a reputation rivalling that of places like Paris, Nantes and Marseille, as it had developed into a fine city with courts, universities, an affluent community, religious significance as well as extensive fortifications. The city remained this way well into the 17th and 18th centuries, until the Industrial Revolution and WWII brought some changes. Poitiers was further developed in the 20th century with the introduction of decentralisation policies, as well as the establishment of the Futuroscope nearby. These changes brought about significant tourist traffic to the city, making it a dynamic place with a historic town centre that is home to a lively student population as well.

Poitiers is situated on a promontory near the Clain River. Its city centre unfolds around Place du Maréchal Leclerc, while the old city stretches northeast from here to the Église Notre-Dame, on the slopes and summit of the plateau,. You can arrive via train, northwest of town at Boulevard du Grand Cerf.

FRANCE POITOU-CHARENTE VIENNE poitiers Eglise Notre DameThe Église Notre-Dame de la Grand [Place Charles-de-Gaulle, +33 549412256] is the main sight in town. The church dates to the 11th century, during the reign of Eleanor, making it one of the oldest Romanesque-Byzantine churches in Europe. It has been constantly renovated and has only a few surviving remnants from its birth period- such as the faded frescos that have been fitted above on the dome above the choir. However, many visitors of the church remember the West façade as the most memorable feature of the building. Filled with sculptures that tell the story of Jesus with details of everything from saints, creatures and even foliage, the west face of the church might easily seem gaudy to the untrained eye. This west façade is the site of a brilliant light show that is held annually (between June and September), colouring the ornate edifice with rich hues.

FRANCE POITOU-CHARENTE VIENNE poitiers palais de justice

Nearby is the imposing Palais de Justice [24 Rue Moulin à Vent +33 549502640], which once used to be the seat of the the Counts of Poitiers and Dukes of Aquitaine. Its huge dining hall – Salle des Pas Perdus is a 13th century reminder of the place’s old grandeur. With a length of 50m and width of 17m, the entire hall is flanked by 3 different fireplaces.

FRANCE POITOU-CHARENTE VIENNE Eglise Notre-Dame-la-GrandeThe Cathédrale St-Pierre [rue de la Cathédrale] and Baptistère St-Jean [Rue Jean-Jaurès, +33 549412124 ad/ch €1.50/0.50] are early Gothic style buildings with an enormous, pale façades. The cathedral is home to a beautiful 13th century stained glass windows, as well as a grand 18th century organ. The Baptistère is the oldest Christian edifice in France, which was built in the mid-4th century. Home to Romanesque frescos and Merovingian tombs, the baptistere is also home to an ancient octagonal tank that was used for full-immersion baptism, which was a popular practice in early Christian times.

Jean Broc's The_Death_of_Hyacinthos

A complete documentation of the history of Poitiers and these places can be traced in the Musée Ste Croix [3 rue Jean-Jaurès, +33 549410753 www.musees-poitiers.org ad/ch €4/Free], built on the site of the old abbey and which houses neo-classical paintings including Jean Broc's La Mort de Hyacinthe and artefacts from the city’s past, the most notable being the statues of Camille Claudel.

One of the best ways to sight these historic places is to embark on a walking tour around Poitiers. The trails in Poitiers are rather straightforward with coloured pavements marking the different trails around the city (maps of these walking trails can be found in the tourist office).


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POITIERS:   1. Tourism office  2. Train station (west of map limit)  3. Église Notre-Dame de la Grand  4. Palais de Justice  5. Cathédrale St-Pierre  6. Baptistère St-Jean  7. Musée Ste Croix