Explore 2,000 years of history in Poitiers – from the Celtic Pictones tribe, who created the first settlement and provided the city with its name, to 21st century Futuroscope, whose amazing 3D animations and cyber adventures attract two million visitors each year.
Go to town
The fabulous historic heart alone would make this hilltop city, overlooking the Rivers Boivre and Clain, an essential visit. The bustling city’s university (with 24,000 students from 117 countries) is the second oldest in France, and much of Poitiers’ architecture has ‘Monument Historique’ status. You’ll discover Gallo-Roman remains, Romanesque belltowers, Renaissance buildings and a vast Gothic cathedral, plus (in Rue de la Chaîne) half-timbered medieval houses. And many more surprises lie in store among the narrow streets between the pavement cafés around the newly-renovated Place du Maréchal and the busy market of Place Charles de Gaulle. Maps, information and guided tours are all available at the Tourist Office.
A good place to begin a visit would be the 4th century Baptistère Saint-Jean, France’s second oldest Christian building. Nearby is the Cathedral-St-Pierre which was begun in 1162 by Henry II and his French wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. The stained glass Crucifixion window in the apse and the fanciful stall carvings are dazzling examples of medieval craftsmanship, while music lovers will gaze in awe at the famous 18th century Cliquot organ. The Eglise Notre-Dame-la-Grande in Place Charles de Gaulle is perhaps the finest Romanesque church in France, and a place of pilgrimage since the Middle Ages. The sculpted west front is amazing, as is the jewel-box painted interior. Don’t miss the free light show each evening, the Polychromies, which reveals the façade as it would have been in Medieval times.
In Rue Gambetta the Palais de Justice, 12th century seat of the Counts of Poitou and Dukes of Aquitaine, conceals an impressive Gothic hall.
Near the river and Boulevard du Pont Joubert, the crypt of the 11th century Eglise Sainte-Radegonde contains the Saint’s tomb with what is claimed to be Christ’s footprint in the stone. In Rue du Doyenne is the Eglise Saint-Hilaire-le-Grand, built during the 6th century on a Roman graveyard. Dedicated to the first Bishop of Poitiers, this UNESCO World Heritage site is part of the ‘Routes to Santiago de Compostela in France’.
Also worth seeing: the 11th century Romanesque decoration of the Eglise Saint-Jean-de-Montierneuf and the attractive nearby squares; the 7th century Hypogée des Dunes underground chapel; the prehistoric Pierre Levée dolmen near the Pont Neuf, where Renaissance writer François Rabelais inscribed his name while a student at the university.
45, Place Charles de Gaulle - B.P. 377,
Tel: +33 (0)5 49 41 21 24; http://uk.poitiers-tourism.com