Poitiers has been one of my favorite towns in France since I lived there in the early 1960’s. While the town and its suburbs are fairly large, the city center has changed little in centuries. Rising above the rivers Clain and Boivre, Poitiers is built on a series of hills which rise forty meters above the streams that surround it on three sides.
Those hills are home to an astonishing collection of churches. The most venerable is the Baptistère Saint-Jean, a 4th century Christian site, perhaps the oldest in France. Just outside of town is the 5th century Hypogée des Dunes, an underground crypt and chapel. The Romanesque churches include Notre Dame la Grande with its extraordinary sculpted facade, the Basilique Saint-Hilaire, and the Église Sainte-Radegonde. Just few blocks from Sainte-Radegonde is the Angevin Cathedral Saint Pierre featuring perhaps the finest single stained glass window in the world, a gift from the builders of the cathedral, Henry Plantagenet and Eleanor of Aquitaine. There is an interesting church that started out Romanesque but after destruction in wars, was updated to the Gothic form, the Abbaye Saint-Jean de Montierneuf. As if this were not enough, it is also home to the Palais de justice where Joan of Arc was interrogated in 1429.
Poitiers was also the site of many great battles of French history. In 507 Clovis defeated Alaric II at the Battle of Vouillé, just a few miles away. At the Battle of Poitiers (or Tours) in 732, Charles Martel defeated the Saracen forces under Abd al Rahman. In 1356 the English inflicted a major defeat on the French in the Hundred Years War. Edward, the Black Prince defeated and captured the French King, Jean le Bon at Nouaillé, just south of town.
Poitiers, as much as any place that we have ever seen, is a living historical monument.
Here are some links to articles we have written about the churches of Poitiers.
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