2,000 years of history
In Antiquity, Poitiers (Lemonum) was the capital of a territory inhabited by the Pictones people; with its first rough streets, public buildings and a wall around it. The city was built on a rocky promontory between two rivers, the Clain and the Boivre, and began to grow after the Roman conquest in the 1st century BC. Towards the end of the 3rd century AD a large defensive wall was built around it.
In the Middle Ages, the city formed around its religious function. The construction of a baptistery in the 5th century illustrates the beginnings of Christianity here. The Romanesque period in architecture saw many new churches built: the churches of Notre-Dame-la-Grande, Saint-Porchaire and Saint-Germain, the collegial churches of Sainte-Radegonde and Saint-Hilaire, the cathedral of Saint-Pierre, and the Abbey of Saint-Jean de Montierneuf.
The city experienced a prosperous period under the powerful dynasty of the Counts of Poitou-Dukes of Aquitaine between the 10th and 13th centuries. A palace symbolically built facing the Episcopal district was built on the summit of the promontory. In 1204, a charter was drawn up to set up a city corporation with a mayor at its head. The University, founded in 1431, took its place among the institutions that were to leave a lasting mark on the identity of the old city.
A city of learning, Poitiers was also well known to travellers who admired among other features its imposing defensive wall built in the time of Aliénor d’Aquitaine – a fortification that over time was to become the symbol of the city and its medieval past. Gradually, its architecture and decor were influenced by the Renaissance: fine town houses with courtyards took their place alongside traditional half-timbered houses.
The laying out of the surrounding boulevards and the arrival of the railway in the 19th century injected new life into the old centre and inspired new urban extensions. The 20th century prolonged the modernisation while preserving its rich heritage.
In the early 20th century, the suburbs developed beyond the ancient site determined by the rivers Boivre and Clain, progressively reaching the neighbouring plateaux after the Second World War.
With this rich long history, the city of Poitiers has nevertheless not remained frozen on its historic urban landscape. The 20th century left its mark on the familiar face of the old city with ambitious programmes of architecture proposing new materials and different volumes.
In the city centre, the contemporary constructions reflect the different periods of the buildings around them. The architects have chosen to illustrate this concept of continuity by astutely combining vestiges of the past and creative design. So the modern buildings carry the memory of their settings, such as the Musée Sainte-Croix, the buildings of the Regional Council, the General Council, the Mediathèque François Mitterrand, the Ilot des Cordeliers, and the Theatre-Auditorium.
Three famous battles
2,000 years of history and notable visits: by Clovis in 507, Charles Martel in 732 and the battle between king Jean II le Bon in 1356 with the Black Prince. These figures have left their mark on the history of the city and the history of France. Three great wars in the territory of Poitiers, against the Visigoths, the Arabs and lastly the English marked its history. Poitiers was also ruled by the English for twenty years in the 14th century.
Poitiers also hoisted for several weeks the Belgian government following the German offensive of 1940. The ministries set up their headquarters in the Hôtel de France. Today, one of the 6 official copies of the Manneken-Pis, symbol of Brussels, is exhibited in the Police headquarters in recognition of this welcome.
The city keeps the memory of the public figures who made its reputation and built up its image. Saint Radegonde who founded the first convent for women, and Saint Hilaire (Hilary), made a Father of the Church. The Counts of Poitou-Dukes of Aquitaine and outstanding figures such as Aliénor d’Aquitaine and Joan of Arc.
Pierre de Ronsard, Joachim du Bellay and René Descartes studied in Poitiers. François Rabelais and John Calvin left their mark on it. Camille Guérin and Michel Foucault were born here. Great names in literature, medicine and the history of France have made Poitiers famous.