Poitiers (pop. 85,000) has played a central role in French history. First settled by the Romans, it was inhabited by early Christian saints and is home to the oldest surviving church in France (from 360 AD). It was in Poitiers that Charles Martel chased out the Muslims in 732 AD, altering the course of European civilization. In the Middle Ages, famous figures from England's Black Prince to Joan of Arc to Richard the Lion-Hearted passed through Poitiers. In the 12th century, Poitiers was the chief city of Eleanor of Aquitaine, who annulled her marriage to pious Louis VII so she could marry Henry II of England. The royal couple founded Poitiers Cathedral and rebuilt the splendid Church of Notre-Dame-La-Grande. And in 1356, the Battle of Poitiers between the armies of Edward the Black Prince and King John of France was one of the three great English victories in the Hundred Years' War, distinguished by the skilled use of the longbow by English archers. Today, Poitiers is a lively university town heavy on green spaces and comparatively light on tourists. It makes a good base for exploring the region and has lots of interesting sights of its own, including many medieval churches.
This unique Romanesque-Byzantine church of the 11th and 12th centuries has one of the finest Romanesque faces in France, covered in a jumble of carvings of saints and biblical scenes.
Poitiers Baptistery was built around 360 AD, making it the oldest church in France. It was expanded in the 6th century, decorated with frescoes in the 12th century, and is now a museum.
This Romanesque and Gothic church dates mostly from the 11th century, but is built over an ancient church. It contains the tomb of the city's patroness, Queen Radegunda, and some painted capitals.
The twin-towered Cathérale St-Pierre was founded in 1162 and completed two centuries later. It has a fine Gothic west front and some early stained glass.
Dedicated to a 6th-century abbot from Poitiers, the Church of St. Porchaire is a Carolingian foundation with a Romanesque tower and Late Gothic interior.
Built in the 11th century, the pilgrimage church of St-Hilaire has a fine apse surrounded by chapels, wall paintings in the choir and several carved capitals.
This 11th-century church on the north side of town originally belonged to a Benedictine monastery. The exterior features a Romanesque apse topped with a Gothic chancel and flying buttresses.