Poitiers

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Poitiers
Historic centre of Poitiers with Church of Saint-Radegund, Cathedral of Saint-Pierre and Palace of Justice in the background
Historic centre of Poitiers with Church of Saint-Radegund, Cathedral of Saint-Pierre and Palace of Justice in the background
Coat of arms of Poitiers
Coat of arms
Poitiers is located in France
Poitiers
Poitiers
Coordinates: 46°35′N 0°20′E / 46.58°N 0.34°E / 46.58; 0.34Coordinates: 46°35′N 0°20′E / 46.58°N 0.34°E / 46.58; 0.34
Country France
Region Poitou-Charentes
Department Vienne
Arrondissement Poitiers
Canton Prefecture
Intercommunality Agglomeration community of Poitiers (CAP)
Government
 • Mayor (2008–2014) Alain Claeys
Area1 42.11 km2 (16.26 sq mi)
Population (2006)2 91,394
 • Density 2,200/km2 (5,600/sq mi)
INSEE/Postal code 86194 / FR86000
Elevation 65–144 m (213–472 ft)
(avg. 75 m or 246 ft)

1 French Land Register data, which excludes lakes, ponds, glaciers > 1 km² (0.386 sq mi or 247 acres) and river estuaries.

2 Population without double counting: residents of multiple communes (e.g., students and military personnel) only counted once.

Poitiers ([pwatje] ( )) is a city on the Clain river in west-central France. It is a commune and the capital of the Vienne department and of the Poitou-Charentes region. Poitiers is a major university centre. The centre of town is picturesque and its streets include predominant historical architecture, especially religious architecture and especially from the Romanesque period. Two major military battles took place near the city: in 732, the Battle of Poitiers (also known as the Battle of Tours), in which the Franks commanded by Charles Martel halted the expansion of the Umayyad Caliphate, and in 1356, the Battle of Poitiers, a key victory for the English forces during the Hundred Years' War. This battle's consequences partly provoked the Jacquerie.

Geography[edit]

Location[edit]

The city of Poitiers is strategically situated on the Seuil du Poitou, a shallow gap between the Armorican and the Central Massif. The Seuil du Poitou connects the Aquitaine Basin to the South to the Paris Basin to the North. This area is an important geographic crossroads in France and Western Europe.

Situation[edit]

Poitiers's primary site sits on a vast promontory between the valleys of the Boivre and the Clain. The old town occupies the slopes and the summit of a plateau which rises 130 feet (40 m) above the streams which surround it on three sides. Thus Poitiers benefits from a very strong tactical situation. This was an especially important factor before and throughout the Middle Ages.

Inhabitants and demography[edit]

Inhabitants of Poitiers are referred as Pictaviens (male) and Pictaviennes (female) from Pictavis, which was the ancient name for the town.[1] It is not uncommon for inhabitants of Poitiers to call themselves Poitevins or Poitevines, although this denomination can be used for anyone from the Poitou province.

As of 2006, the population of Poitiers was 91,394. One out of three people in Poitiers is under the age of 30 and one out of four residents in Poitiers is a student.[citation needed]

Historical population of Poitiers
Year 1936 1954 1962 1968 1975 1982 1990 1999 2006
Population 44,269 52,681 62,178 71,129 81,313 79,350 78,894 83,448 91,580

Climate[edit]

The climate in the Poitiers area is mild with mild temperature amplitudes, and adequate rainfall throughout the year. The Köppen Climate Classification subtype for this type of climate is "Cfb" (Marine West Coast Climate/Oceanic climate).[2]

Climate data for Poitiers
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 7
(45)
9
(49)
13
(55)
16
(61)
19
(67)
23
(73)
24
(76)
25
(77)
22
(72)
17
(62)
11
(51)
8
(47)
16.2
(61.3)
Average low °C (°F) 1
(33)
1
(34)
2
(36)
5
(41)
8
(47)
11
(52)
13
(56)
13
(55)
11
(51)
7
(45)
4
(39)
2
(35)
6.5
(43.7)
Precipitation mm (inches) 43
(1.7)
48
(1.9)
56
(2.2)
48
(1.9)
50
(2)
50
(2)
46
(1.8)
43
(1.7)
46
(1.8)
74
(2.9)
71
(2.8)
61
(2.4)
636
(25.1)
Source: Weatherbase [3]

History[edit]

Antiquity[edit]

Poitiers was founded by the Celtic tribe of the Pictones and was known as the oppidum Lemonum before Roman influence. The name is said to have come from the Celtic word for elm, Lemo. After Roman influence took over, the town became known as Pictavium, or later "Pictavis", after the original Pictones inhabitants themselves.

There is a rich history of archeological finds from the Roman era in Poitiers. In fact until 1857 Poitiers hosted the ruins of a vast Roman amphitheatre, which was larger than that of Nîmes. Remains of Roman baths, built in the 1st century and demolished in the 3rd century, were uncovered in 1877.

In 1879 a burial-place and tombs of a number of Christian martyrs were discovered on the heights to the south-east of the town. The names of some of the Christians had been preserved in paintings and inscriptions. Not far from these tombs is a huge dolmen (the Pierre Levée), which is 6.7 metres (22 ft) long, 4.9 metres (16 ft) broad and 2.1 metres (7 ft) high, and around which used to be held the great fair of Saint Luke.

The Romans also built at least three aqueducts. This extensive ensemble of Roman constructions suggests Poitiers was a town of first importance, possibly even the capital of the Roman province of Gallia Aquitania during the 2nd century.

As Christianity was made official and gradually introduced across the Roman Empire during the 3rd and 4th centuries, the first bishop of Poitiers from 350 to 367, Hilary of Poitiers or Saint Hilarius, proceeded to evangelize the town. Exiled by an ignorant Emperor, he risked death to return to Poitiers as Bishop after discovering that the Christian "Eastern" Church were not heretics as believed in Rome, but had, rather, reached many of the same conclusions about the Holy Trinity as had the Western Church. The first foundations of the Baptistère Saint-Jean can be traced to that era of open Christian evangelization. He was named "Doctor of The Church" by Pope Pius IX.

In the 4th century, a thick wall 6m wide and 10m high was built around the town. It was 2.5 km (2 mi) long and stood lower on the naturally defended east side and at the top of the promontory. Around this time, the town began to be known as Poitiers.

Fifty years later Poitiers fell into the hands of the Arian Visigoths, and became one of the principal residences of their kings. Visigoth King Alaric II was defeated by Clovis I at Vouillé, not far from Poitiers, in 507, and the town thus came under Frankish dominion.

Middle Ages[edit]

Charles-de-Gaulle place and its medieval heritage

During most of the Early Middle Ages, the town of Poitiers took advantage of its defensive tactical site and of its location, which was far from the centre of Frankish power. As the seat for an évêché (bishop) since the 4th century, the town was a centre of some importance and the capital of the Poitou county. At the height of their power, the Counts of Poitiers governed a large domain, including both Aquitaine and Poitou.

The first decisive victory of a Christian army over a Muslim power, the Battle of Tours, was fought by Charles Martel's men in the vicinity of Poitiers on 10 October 732. For many historians, it was one of the world's pivotal moments.[4]

Eleanor of Aquitaine frequently resided in the town, which she embellished and fortified, and in 1199 entrusted with communal rights.

During the Hundred Years' War, the Battle of Poitiers, an English victory, was fought near the town of Poitiers on 19 September 1356. Later in the war In 1418, under duress, the royal parliament moved from Paris to Poitiers, where it remained in exile until the Plantagenets finally withdrew from the capital in 1436. During this interval, in 1429 Poitiers was the site of Joan of Arc's formal inquest.

The University of Poitiers was founded in 1431. During and after the Reformation, John Calvin had numerous converts in Poitiers and the town had its share of the violent proceedings which underlined the Wars of Religion throughout France.

In 1569 Poitiers was defended by Gui de Daillon, comte du Lude, against Gaspard de Coligny, who after an unsuccessful bombardment and seven weeks, retired from a siege he had laid to the town.

16th century[edit]

The type of political organisation existing in Poitiers during the late medieval or early modern period can be glimpsed through a speech given on 14 July 1595 by Maurice Roatin, the town's mayor. He compared it to the Roman state, which combined three types of government: monarchy (rule by one person), aristocracy (rule by a few), and democracy (rule by the many). He said the Roman consulate corresponded to Poitiers' mayor, the Roman senate to the town's peers and échevins, and the democratic element in Rome corresponded to the fact that most important matters "can not be decided except by the advice of the Mois et Cent" (broad council).1 The mayor appears to have been an advocate of a mixed constitution; not all Frenchmen in 1595 would have agreed with him, at least in public; many spoke in favour of absolute monarchy. The democratic element was not as strong as the mayor's words may seem to imply: in fact, Poitiers was similar to other French cities, Paris, Nantes, Marseille, Limoges, La Rochelle, Dijon, in that the town's governing body (corps de ville) was "highly exclusive and oligarchical": a small number of professional and family groups controlled most of the city offices. In Poitiers many of these positions were granted for the lifetime of the office holder.2

The city government in Poitiers based its claims to legitimacy on the theory of government where the mayor and échevins held jurisdiction of the city's affairs in fief from the king: that is, they swore allegiance and promised support for him, and in return he granted them local authority. This gave them the advantage of being able to claim that any townsperson who challenged their authority was being disloyal to the king. Every year the mayor and the 24 échevins would swear an oath of allegiance "between the hands" of the king or his representative, usually the lieutenant général or the sénéchaussée. For example, in 1567, when Maixent Poitevin was mayor, king Henry III came for a visit, and, although some townspeople grumbled about the licentious behaviour of his entourage, Henry smoothed things over with a warm speech acknowledging their allegiance and thanking them for it.2

In this era, the mayor of Poitiers was preceded by sergeants wherever he went, consulted deliberative bodies, carried out their decisions, "heard civil and criminal suits in first instance", tried to ensure that the food supply would be adequate, visited markets.2

In the 16th century, Poitiers impressed visitors because of its large size, and important features, including "royal courts, university, prolific printing shops, wealthy religious institutions, cathedral, numerous parishes, markets, impressive domestic architecture, extensive fortifications, and castle."3

16th-century Poitiers is closely associated with the life of François Rabelais and with the community of Bitards.

17th century[edit]

The town saw less activity during the Renaissance. Few changes were made in the urban landscape, except for laying way for the rue de la Tranchée. Bridges were built where the inhabitants had used gués. A few hôtels particuliers were built at that time, such as the hôtels Jean Baucé, Fumé and Berthelot. Poets Joachim du Bellay and Pierre Ronsard met at the University of Poitiers, before leaving for Paris.

During the 17th century, many people emigrated from Poitiers and the Poitou to the French settlements in the new world and thus many Acadians or Cajuns living in North America today can trace ancestry back to this region.

18th century[edit]

During the 18th century, the town's activity mainly depended on its administrative functions as a regional centre: Poitiers served as the seat for the regional administration of royal justice, the évêché, the monasteries and the intendance of the Généralité du Poitou.

The Vicomte de Blossac, intendant of Poitou from 1750 to 1784, had a French garden landscaped in Poitiers. He also had Aliénor d'Aquitaine's ancient wall razed and modern boulevards were built in its place.

19th century[edit]

During the 19th century, many army bases were built in Poitiers because of its central and strategic location. Poitiers became a garrison town, despite its distance from France's borders.

The Poitiers train station was built in the 1850s, and connected Poitiers to the rest of France.

20th century and contemporary Poitiers[edit]

Poitiers was bombed during World War II, particularly the area around the railway station which was heavily hit on 13 June 1944.

From the late 1950s until the late 1960s when Charles de Gaulle ended the American military presence, the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force had an array of military installations in France, including a major Army logistics and communications hub in Poitiers, part of what was called the Communication Zone (ComZ), and consisting of a logistics headquarters and communications agency located at Aboville Caserne, a military compound situated on a hill above the city. Hundreds of graduates ("Military Brats") of Poitiers American High School, a school operated by the Department of Defense School System (DODDS), have gone on to successful careers, including the recent commander-in-chief of U.S. Special Forces Command, Army General Bryan (Doug) Brown. The Caserne also housed a full support community, with a theater, commissary, recreation facilities and an affiliate radio station of the American Forces Network, Europe, headquartered in Frankfurt (now Mannheim, Germany).[citation needed]

The town benefited from industrial décentralisation in the 1970s, for instance with the installation during that decade of the Michelin and Compagnie des compteurs Schlumberger factories. The Futuroscope theme-park and research park project, built in 1986–1987 in nearby Chasseneuil-du-Poitou, after an idea by René Monory, consolidated Poitiers' place as a touristic destination and as a modern university centre, and opened the town to the era of information technology.[citation needed]

Landmarks and attractions[edit]

Church of St. Hilary le Grand

Sports[edit]

The Stade Poitevin, founded in 1900, is a multi-sports club, which fields several top-level teams in a variety of sports. These include a volleyball team that play in the French Pro A volleyball league, a basketball team, an amateur football team and a professional rugby team (as of the 2008–2009 season.)

The PB86 or Poitiers Basket 86 (www.pb86.fr) play in the French Pro A basketball league. In the 2009–10 season, three Americans played for PB86: Rasheed Wright, Kenny Younger and Tommy Gunn. The team played the French championship playoffs in the 2009–10 season and was the Pro B French Champion for the 2008–2009 season. The team's communication strategy is considered by some to be one of the best in the French basketball league.

Brian Joubert, the figure skating champion, practices at an ice rink in Poitiers and lives with his family in the city.

Tourism[edit]

Historic churches, in particular Romanesque church buildings, are the main attraction inside Poitiers itself. The town's centre is picturesque, with generally well-preserved architecture and a recently re-zoned pedestrian area. There are numerous shops, cafes and restaurants in the town centre.

Since 1987, Poitiers' tourist industry has indirectly benefited from the Futuroscope theme-park and research park in nearby Chasseneuil-du-Poitou. The centre of town receives visits in complement to the theme-park and benefits from a larger proportion of European tourists, notably from the United Kingdom. In conjunction, Poitiers' tourism has directly benefited from the TGV high-speed rail link to Paris.

Transport[edit]

Poitiers' railway station lies on the TGV Atlantique line between Paris and Bordeaux. The station is in the valley to the west of the old town centre. Services run to Angoulême, Limoges and La Rochelle in addition to Paris and Bordeaux. The direct TGV puts Poitiers 1h40 from Paris' Gare Montparnasse.

Poitiers - Biard Airport is located 2.4 kilometres (1.5 mi) west of Poitiers with flights to Lyon-Saint Exupéry, London-Stansted, Edinburgh and Shannon, Ireland on Ryanair.

Urban transportation in Poitiers is provided by a company called Vitalis. Regional ground transportation in the department of the Vienne is provided by private bus companies such as "Ligne en Vienne". Rail transportation in the region is provided by the public TER Poitou-Charentes (regional express train).

From January 2009 to December 2012, Poitiers' town centre went through deep changes to make it less accessible to motor vehicles. The project, named "Projet Coeur d'Agglo", focused on re-thinking the way people use individual cars to access the town centre and as an everyday way of transportation. On September 29, 2010, 12 streets were permanently closed off to motor vehicles and transformed into an entirely pedestrian zone.

Eventually, a new line of fast buses will be added around 2017.

Panoramic view of Poitiers at sunset.

Education[edit]

The city of Poitiers has a very old tradition as a university centre, starting in the Middle Ages. The University of Poitiers was established in 1431 as the second oldest university in France, and has welcomed many famous philosophers and scientists throughout the ages (notably François Rabelais; René Descartes; Francis Bacon).

Today Poitiers is one of the biggest university towns in France; in fact it has more students per inhabitant than any other large town or city in France. All around, there are over 27,000 university students in Poitiers, nearly 4,000 of which are foreigners, hailing from 117 countries. The University covers all major fields from sciences to geography, history, languages economics and law.

The law degree at the University of Poitiers is considered to be one of the best in France. The program was ranked second by l'Étudiant magazine in 2005.[citation needed]

In addition to the University, Poitiers also hosts two engineering schools and two business schools:

Since 2001, the city of Poitiers has hosted the first cycle of "the South America, Spain and Portugal" program from the Paris Institute of Political Studies.

International relations[edit]

Twin towns – Sister cities[edit]

Poitiers is twinned with:

Notable people[edit]

This is a list of people of interest who were born or resided in Poitiers:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  1. Archives communales de Poitiers, reg. 54, pp. 211–213; in Harry J. Bernstein, Between Crown and Community: Politics and Civic Culture in Sixteenth-Century Poitiers. 2004, Ithica N.Y., USA: Cornell University Press, p. 22.
  2. Harry J. Bernstein, Between Crown and Community: Politics and Civic Culture in Sixteenth-Century Poitiers. 2004, Ithaca N.Y., USA: Cornell University Press, p. 22–30.
  3. ibid., p. 2.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Poitiers (86000) et ses habitants les Pictaviens, Pictaviennes". Habitants.fr. Retrieved 25 April 2011. 
  2. ^ Climate Summary for Poitiers, France
  3. ^ "Weatherbase.com". Weatherbase. 2013.  Retrieved on June 26, 2013.
  4. ^ Professor of religion Huston Smith says in The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions: "But for their defeat by Charles Martel in the Battle of Tours in 733 [sic], the entire Western world might today be Muslim."
  5. ^ "Acordos de Geminação" (in Portuguese). © 2009 Câmara Municipal de Coimbra – Praça 8 de Maio – 3000-300 Coimbra. Retrieved 25 June 2009. 
  6. ^ Who Was Who in America, Historical Volume, 1607–1896. Marquis Who's Who. 1967. 

External links[edit]