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.
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