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NIORT

The tour of Niort in 80 minutes!

Discover Niort's architectural panorama at a glance!

NIORT

Pédestre

Culturel, Historique

With a population of sixty thousand, Niort is a city with nine centuries of history. From its historic centre, bathed by the Sèvre Niortaise river, to the gardens of the Brèche, the town boasts a rich heritage, including the imposing keep built by Henry II Plantagenet, King of England. Today, the heart of the agglomeration beats to the rhythm of the many festive events that enliven the town centre and its neighbourhoods. From the top of its hills, Niort dominates the unique landscape of the Marais Poitevin and opens its doors to visitors. The capital of the mutualist economy, Niort is asserting its urban and natural character by reclaiming the banks of its river and preserving the city's biological and cultural diversity. Discover Niort "intra muros", a town on a human scale, with a historic and monumental heritage in a handful of places.

-> Unmarked route

The tour of Niort in 80 minutes!

Distance : 2.0 km

Step 1: Donjon de Niort

The keep: Niort's 1st listed building. On the banks of the Sèvre Niortaise, stands one of the most beautiful groups of twin Romanesque keeps in France. They formed the central core of a vast quadrilateral castle, some 700 metres long and armed with a dozen towers. At the end of the 12th century, Henry II Plantagenet, King of England, decided to rebuild Niort Castle as an impregnable fortress, in order to develop and defend the estates that his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, had given him through her marriage.

Step 2: Préfecture des Deux-Sèvres

The Prefecture, built between 1828 and 1830 in the neo-classical style by Pierre-Théophile Segretain, replaced a former botanical garden. This polygonal garden included an ice house, a fruit tree plantation, an orangery, hot baths and a swimming school on the banks of the Sèvre. Two sculptures of nymphs on the pediment of the building symbolise the Sèvre Niortaise and Nantaise rivers. Between the two women is Marianne, almost effaced.

Step 3: Hôtel de Ville

The Hôtel de Ville was built in the neo-Renaissance style by Georges Lasseron, with its coffered porch, mullioned windows and roof dormers topped with pediments. The foundation stone was laid by the President of the Republic, Félix Faure, in 1897. Construction took four years. To emphasise the supremacy of secularism over religion, the town council of the day commissioned the construction of a belfry (above the coat of arms) to conceal the Notre-Dame bell tower as seen from the rue Thiers. The town's coat of arms, above the clock, depicts the two towers of the keep and the Sèvre River flowing at its feet. The two savages are a reminder of the Duke of Berry's interest in this disguise. At the time of the discovery of Canada (1534), these savages were replaced by Iroquois Indians.

Step 4: Palais de Justice

Built in the early 19th century by P.-T. Segretain in the shape of a Greek temple, the courthouse was built on the site of the former Charitan brothers' hospice. It is neoclassical in style, to assert the authority of the judiciary and inspire respect (solemn and monumental architecture). --- Built in the mid-19th century by the same architect on the site of the old Pelet district (*) and linked to the Palais de Justice by an underground passageway, the Niort prison (rue du Sanitat) is one of the oldest remand prisons in France. Listed as a Historic Monument in 1987, it is the only French prison with a semi-circular panoptic shape. With its avant-garde Philadelphia-style design, imported from across the Atlantic, its architecture was inspired by religious art.

Step 5: Eglise Notre-Dame

Built between 1491 and 1534 in the Flamboyant Gothic style on the site of a former Romanesque chapel, the church on Notre-Dame hill was altered and restored in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Listed as a Historic Monument, its north portal features decorative elements from the late Gothic period (pilasters forming pinnacles (*), ornamentation of curled cabbage leaves on the braced arches, infill (**) in the form of flames in the first-floor window) and the Renaissance (tribune decorated with medallions of heads in profile and three-quarter views sculpted on the balustrade). Notre-Dame de Niort is the highest monument in the département. Its steeple with spire reaches a height of 75 metres! According to a Poitevin legend, the spire was built by the fairy Mélusine. During her nocturnal escapades, Mélusine, half woman, half winged serpent, built towns and castles.

Step 6: L'ancienne école de dessin

The drawing school, built between 1890 and 1892 by Lasseron, later became the town's Natural History Museum and music school, before being incorporated into the district's restoration project when the "Espace Niortais" was created. Although the building's former function is no longer engraved on it, there is evidence of it, such as the head of Apollo, the Greek god of Beauty, Light, the Arts and Divination, on the tympanum of the door and on the spandrels framing it, drawing instruments and the painter's palette.

Step 7: Les anciennes maisons

This Henry II-style town house, built by Léonard de la Réau or Mathurin Berthomé, belonged to the Sires d'Estissac, Lords of Coulonges les Royaux, a noble Périgord family with several seigneuries in Poitou and a patron of the Poitou Renaissance. It has two storeys and a habitable attic lit by triangular pediment roof dormers, each adorned with pinnacles. The window above the entrance door is decorated with a false ceiling of seven coffers, the middle of which is carved with a cherub (a child's head carried by two wings). A watchtower to the left of the door, between the ground and ground floors, was used both in times of tension and peace (to watch for the arrival of guests). The four stone hooks under the roof were used to support hangings stretched on poles during festivities.

Step 8: Eglise temple protestant

Since 1805, the Protestant Temple has occupied the former church of the Cordeliers convent, as evidenced by the open Bible on the tympanum of the door. The mid-13th century church, damaged by the Wars of Religion, was restored in 1607, as indicated by the date engraved above the window. You will also notice that the bell tower and chapels have been removed from the building.

Step 9: Légende du soldat et du dragon de Niort

Four bronze dragons have been installed in Rue Amable Ricard and Rue du Temple to illustrate a local legend that is said to refer to the actions of King Louis XIV's dragoons against Protestants in the 17th century.

Step 10: Jardins de la Brèche

The 2nd heart of Niort - La Brèche, one of the largest squares in western France, is located in the heart of the city, between the old town and the modern districts. It was given its name when the river Bouillounouse, on which the square is built, flooded in 1747, forcing a breach to be made in the city walls to allow the water to flow into the Sèvre. Built from 1750 on a vast marshland to accommodate Niort's cattle fairs outside the town walls, the square was later embellished with a formal garden, a monumental staircase, a balustrade and a fence framing two rows of chestnut trees. From 1923 to 1972, it hosted the May Fair. Later turned into "a large roundabout with a car park in the middle", the Brèche is now a pedestrian esplanade.

Step 11: Rue Victor Hugo

Can you imagine that, from the 13th century onwards, Niort's first covered market, "the largest and most beautiful market in the kingdom", occupied the entire length of the street? They were 165 metres long and 22 metres wide and consisted of three rows of pillars and a roof that rested on the facades of the houses. In 1793, they were dismantled piece by piece. In 2011, the floor was covered with large slabs of natural stone and light-coloured concrete. The grid pattern evokes the structure of the medieval market. Between rue Victor Hugo and rue Sainte-Marthe, the Passage du Commerce was opened in the early 19th century on part of the former Hôtel des Trois Pigeons by private shareholders to house 23 luxury boutiques over a length of 100m. A royal decree of 1821 stipulated that the paving was the responsibility of the Town Hall and the glass roof that of the shopkeepers.

Step 12: Le Pilori - Espace d'arts visuels

Built between 1530 and 1535 by master mason Mathurin Berthomé on the foundations of a 14th-century building, this "fortress of communal liberties" was Niort's former town hall from the Middle Ages to the Revolution. It bears this name as a reminder that the mayor once had the right to dispense justice. To this end, two iron collars fixed to the wall of the building were used to "pillory" offenders wearing a sign around their neck stating their offence. A lapidary and numismatic museum from 1887 to 1987, the historic monument is now the "Espace d'arts visuels" (a venue for temporary exhibitions of contemporary works).
The artists will be on hand from Tuesday to Saturday, 1pm to 7.30pm (free admission).

Step 13: Logis de l'Hercule

At no. 16 rue Cloche Perse is the former Hercule dwelling where the first case of the plague broke out in 1603. Only the cellar remains today. The tragic event is carved on the corner of rue du Soleil and rue de la Juiverie, above the door of the Maison des Atlantes, built in 1874 on the site of the stables.

Step 14: Maison natale de Mme de Maintenon

Françoise d'Aubigné, the morganatic (*) wife of the Sun King, was born in the former "Le Maintenon" thrift shop on Rue du Pont. Madame de Maintenon (Niort, 1635-Saint-Cyr, 1719), almost Queen of France - Françoise d'Aubigné was born in a flat in the old Niort prison where her indebted father was locked up as a murderer, traitor and counterfeiter. She spent her childhood in poverty with her Protestant aunt in Mursay, near Niort, where her grandfather had lived, squire to the future Henri IV and a great poet of the Baroque period. Following her stay in the West Indies, she became known as the "Belle Indienne". Her religious education was entrusted to the Ursulines of Niort, then to those of Paris. To escape the convent, she was married to the "old" poet Paul Scarron, then, on his death, became governess to the "bastards" of Louis XIV. The king offered her the Marquisate of Maintenon and married her by night in 1683.

Step 15: Halles Baltard

A listed site, this temple to gourmet delights is a cast-iron, glass and steel 'cathedral' built in 1869 in the Baltard style (*). Every day of the year except Mondays, shoppers are warmly welcomed by 140 local traders and producers! Its triangular pediment is adorned with the figures of Mercury, god of trade, travel and thieves, and Ceres, goddess of the harvest, seated on the attributes of agriculture (fruit and vegetables).
(*) The architecture of the building is inspired by the style of the Halles centrales de Paris, built by the architect Baltard and now defunct.

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