10 largest cities in France




Poitiers is a town in the Center-West of France, capital (prefecture) of the department of Vienne. Capital of the cultural and historical region of Poitou and until 2016 of the former administrative region of Poitou-Charentes, it now constitutes a pole of dynamic balance in the north of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region.

With more than 29,000 students, Poitiers has been a large university town since the creation of its University in 1431, having notably hosted René Descartes, Joachim du Bellay and François Rabelais. It is the second university hub in the region after its capital Bordeaux.

Watered by Clain and Boivre, with a population of 88,291 inhabitants in 2017, Poitiers is the most populous municipality in Vienne. Its agglomeration had 130,853 inhabitants in 2016 and constitutes the center of an urban area of ​​261,795 inhabitants. The agglomeration community of Grand Poitiers had 188,733 inhabitants on January 1, 2014 in its new delimitation of 2017.

The agglomeration of Poitiers, located halfway between Paris and Bordeaux, hosts on its territory the Futuroscope technopole, which has large public (CNED, Canopé ...) and private companies of national scope, as well as laboratories of cutting-edge research at European level. With 2 million annual visitors, Futuroscope is the leading tourist site in Nouvelle-Aquitaine and the third largest French leisure park in terms of attendance after Disneyland Paris and Puy du Fou.

City of art and history, that which is still called "The city of a hundred spiers" or "The city of a hundred churches", endowed with an old and rich heritage, Poitiers brings together an important monumental complex unmatched in the west of France, including in particular the Saint-Jean baptistery (4th century), the hypogeum of the Dunes (7th century), Notre-Dame-la-Grande church (12th century), Saint-Porchaire church (12th century) century) or the Saint-Pierre cathedral (end of the 12th century - beginning of the 13th century). Its historic center is home to many remarkable buildings, splendid half-timbered houses, a few mansions - Hôtel Fumé, Hôtel Jean Beaucé - as well as the former courthouse (12th century), former palace of the Counts of Poitou, Dukes of Aquitaine , where the Queen of France and England Eleanor of Aquitaine held court.



Poitiers left its name to three major battles:

the first battle of Poitiers 507, or battle of Vouillé is the least known. It was won by Clovis I on Alaric II king of the Visigoths (instead called Campus Vogladensis) north-west of Poitiers, and allowed the conquest of the entire area between Loire and Pyrenees;
the battle of Poitiers in 732 at Moussais, in the town of Vouneuil-sur-Vienne, north of Poitiers, with the victory of the Franks led by Charles Martel over the Moorish troops and their allies;
the battle of 1356, which took place at Nouaillé-Maupertuis south of Poitiers, with the victory of the English commanded by the Black Prince against the French under King John the Good.

The city already existed at the arrival of Caesar, in the form of a Celtic oppidum named Lemonum or Limonum, a term which would come from the Gallic lemo- or limo-, elm (cf. old Irish lem, elm), same Indo root -European than the Latin ulmus which gave elm; Lemonum would mean "the orchard". The city was redeveloped according to the Roman model in the 1st century AD and was equipped with a large amphitheater (almost completely destroyed in 1857), several thermal baths, at least three aqueducts (remains at the Arcs de Parigny), all giving the city a prominent status. It is possible that in the 2nd century AD, the city was the capital of the province of Aquitaine.

In the 4th century, a thick wall six meters thick and ten high encircled the city for 2.5 kilometers. This is reduced to the top and east side of the promontory. Despite the drastic reduction in the area of ​​the city (the amphitheater is left outside the enclosure, for example), the enclosed area is one of the largest in the Lower Empire (50 ha), which is probably due to the topography of the site.

Saint Hilaire evangelizes the city in the 4th century. The foundations of the Saint-Jean baptistery date from this period. The city then takes the final name of Poitiers, in connection with the people of the Pictons.

Middle Ages
In medieval times, Poitiers took advantage of its defensive site, and its geographical location, far from the center of Frankish power. Seat of a bishopric since the 4th century, the city also developed around the Sainte-Croix monastery founded by Radegonde, queen of the Franks.

The city is the capital of the county of Poitiers, whose counts, long also titled Duke of Aquitaine lead an important principality grouping together several counties and former counties: Poitiers, Limoges, Angoulême, Périgueux, Saintes, etc. forming the Duchy of Aquitaine. From 927 to 1216, Poitiers was the capital of the Duchy of Aquitaine. The Dukes of Aquitaine built their castle there and Aliénor d'Aquitaine lived there regularly.

In the ninth century, the name of Grand-rue appears in charters. It is the oldest trace of a street name preserved in Europe. This street corresponds to the line of weakest slope, and therefore the least tiring, to go up from the ford (current bridge) Saint-Joubert to the plateau, and it is a route dating back to the Iron Age. Roughly oriented east-west, it serves as a decuman axis for the orthogonal grid of streets in Roman times. It was in the 7th century that Father Mellebaude had the Dunes hypogeum built.

A first attempt to create a commune took place, autonomously by the inhabitants in 1138 (perhaps by the Saint-Hilaire brotherhood), who called on the neighboring towns and cities to form a league. The town is quickly suppressed by the King of France. Eleanor of Aquitaine had a new wall built in the 12th century, 6000 meters long, enclosing the entire promontory. Eleanor of Aquitaine held his court in Poitiers. His home, the Palace of the Dukes of Aquitaine, partly became the courthouse of Poitiers during the French Revolution.

During the revolt of the sons of Henry II, the city remained loyal to the King of England, which enabled it to obtain a municipal charter around 1175, on the model of the Establishments of Rouen. The charter was confirmed by Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1199, then by the kings of France. Eleanor of Aquitaine is also doing work at the Palace of the Counts-Dukes and building a new market. She died in Poitiers in April 1204, and the city was taken by Philippe Auguste in August of the same year.

The city welcomes many pilgrims who come to venerate the relics of Saint Radegonde or Saint Hilaire, some continuing towards Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle.

In the fourteenth century, the city fell in prerogative to the third son of John II the Good, the Duke of Berry (sponsor of the Très Riches Heures of the Duke of Berry). He embellished the medieval palace of the Counts of Poitiers, notably by fitting out the keep (known as the Maubergeon tower). Likewise, it embellishes the ancient triangular castle, visible in the Très Riches Heures manuscript, in July. In 1385 he had one of the first belfries built, the “big clock”, which has now disappeared.


In 1360, following the Treaty of Brétigny, the city, like all of Poitou, passed into the hands of the English. From September 22 to 25, 1361, John Chandos, lieutenant of King Edward III of England and constable of Aquitaine, responsible for applying the treaty in the provinces ceded to England, took possession of the city and its castle. Mayor Jehan Barré hands him the keys. Jean Chandos gives them back to him, then he receives the oaths of loyalty to the King of England from the main personalities of the city. He set up a new administration of the province, under the authority of Guillaume de Felynton, English knight, as seneschal of Poitou.

On August 7, 1372, thanks to a few bourgeois infiltrating the city, du Guesclin had the gates of Poitiers opened and took the city back from the English by surprise. To consolidate this military conquest, Charles V by his edict of December 1372 granted the nobility in the 1st degree to the mayors of Poitiers. Poitiers is then the first city of the kingdom of France where a dignity becomes ennobling. Mayors were elected for two years. In the first mayors who were raised to this dignity, it should be noted that Guillaume Taveau was raised on several occasions between 1388 and 1414. By marrying Sibille de Saint-Martin, he became baron de Morthemer. This family is one of the oldest in the county. This barony had an important role in the history of Poitou. His descendants worked alongside the kings of France until the Revolution.

During the Hundred Years War, the city temporarily became the capital of the kingdom of France and hosted the Royal Parliament in 1418. It was also in Poitiers that Joan of Arc was examined in 1429 before receiving the command of the royal host.

Taking advantage of royal favor and the presence of many exiled Parisian scholars, Poitiers obtained the creation of a university in 1431. It had 4,000 students at the end of the 15th century. Among the dozen Universities open in the equivalent of present-day France, it was sufficiently renowned to welcome and train brilliant minds such as René Descartes, François Rabelais, Joachim du Bellay or Pierre de Ronsard.

From the 16th century to the French Revolution
The city dozed off during the Renaissance. In fact, few changes have taken place in the urban fabric, apart from the construction of the rue de la Tranchée, and the construction of bridges which replace the old fords. A few mansions date from this period: Jean-Baucé, Fumé, Berthelot hotels, in particular.

The city derives its prosperity mainly from its administrative functions: royal justice, bishopric, monasteries, stewardship and the finance office of the generality of Poitiers. It was also from the stewardship that some changes came at the end of the 18th century: the Comte de Blossac, steward from 1750 to 1784, had a French garden built (see green spaces in Poitiers). He also had the wall of Aliénor d'Aquitaine demolished and boulevards built on their site.

The Ancien Régime was a period when, despite very marked class antagonisms, temporary solidarities could be formed against the common enemy, often the monarchy in the person of the clerks responsible for collecting taxes. Thus, in 1676, the butchers, a highly organized profession, revolted against the assistant clerks. They are supported by the mayor. The Revolution was preceded in Poitiers by a few moments of questioning of royal power: the tearing of posters publishing the royal edicts at the end of the reign of Louis XV with a riot bringing together 1,200 people in July 1768.

Since the Revolution
In the 19th century, many barracks were built, making Poitiers a garrison town. The station was built in the 1850s, in 1899, the city is served by a tram network comprising three lines whose junction is at Place d'Armes.

In 1901, a news item became a national affair and inspired André Gide to write the novel La Séquestrée de Poitiers.

During the Second World War, Poitiers hosted the Belgian government in exile from May 23 to June 18, 1940. An internment camp located on the road to Limoges, initially established to accommodate Spanish refugees, becomes a stopover on the route des death camps for nearly 2,000 Jews and more than a hundred Gypsies. On June 13, 1944, the American air force bombed the axis of the Clain valley / station district / Boivre valley. 480 houses or buildings are razed, more than 2,000 are largely damaged. The number of deaths is unknown precisely, between several dozen and a hundred.


The city of Poitiers has grown considerably since the 1960s, with the creation of the ZUP des Couronneries and the Trois-Cités district, and the creation of major bypass roads (avenue John-F.-Kennedy then avenue du 11 -November) and penetrating (André-Malraux route), beyond which developed in the 1970s other districts (Gibauderie, Beaulieu ...), then a new bypass north-east of the city (RN147) at the end of the 1980s. The urbanization of the city continues further east with the ZAC of Saint-Éloi during the 1990s and 2000s.

The city's activity has benefited from industrial decentralization since the 1970s, notably with the establishment of a Michelin factory (closed in 2006), the Schlumberger meter company (industrial and residential meters).

The Futuroscope project (built in the towns near Jaunay-Marigny and Chasseneuil-du-Poitou), built in 1986-1987 on an idea by René Monory, enabled the development of the tourist sector in the agglomeration and opened up the city ​​in the technological and tourist era. Today, Poitiers can be visited as a complement to the park, and benefits from an increasingly European clientele, particularly English with the opening of a direct airline between Poitiers-Biard airport and London Stansted.

Echoing the social movements of early 2009, Poitiers saw demonstrations bringing together 20,000 people on January 29, and 30,000 on March 19. On October 10 of the same year, an anti-prison demonstration took place during which some shop windows and street furniture were destroyed by individuals whom the police and the media identified as belonging to the ultra-left.

In May 2019, the court moved, leaving the former Palace of the Dukes of Aquitaine and settling in what was previously the Lycée des Feuillants located on Boulevard de Tassigny. The city will then officially become the owner of the Palace of the Dukes of Aquitaine on January 1, 2020. A third area thus opens for the Palace, it was the residence of the Duke of Aquitaine and Counts of Poitou, then the Palace of Justice and now a dedicated center mainly to culture. It is now intended as the gateway to the city. However, many years of work will be needed to finally make it available to the public.