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Niort, from the Sèvre to the Brèche

Discover the monuments and people who have shaped Niort's history!



Culturel, Historique

Discover the city of Niort, from the Sèvre to the Brèche. You'll cross the town from point to point, discovering its emblematic monuments and their history. For several centuries, from the top of its hills, Niort has dominated the astonishing landscape of the Marais Poitevin and opened its eastern gateway. Today, it is asserting its urban and natural character by reclaiming the banks of its river and preserving the biological and cultural diversity of the city.

-> Unmarked route

Niort, from the Sèvre to the Brèche

Distance : 5.0 km

Step 1: Le Donjon

On the banks of the Sèvre Niortaise, stands one of the most beautiful groups of twin Romanesque keeps in France, and the 1st building in Niort to be listed as a Historic Monument. It formed the central section of a vast castle in the shape of a quadrilateral 700 m long. It was the King of England, Henry II Plantagenet, who decided to rebuild an impregnable fortress at the end of the 12th century, in order to defend the lands that his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, had given him through her marriage.

Step 2: Préfécture 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: Maison d'arrêt de Niort

This establishment was inaugurated on 1 March 1853. The building has been listed as a historic monument since 14 April 1987. The prison was built following a decree signed by the Emperor when he visited Niort on 7 August 1808. This decree was to lead to the most important changes in the town. The work was carried out under the responsibility of the architect Pierre Théophile Segrétain.

Step 4: Église Notre-Dame de Niort

Built between 1491 and 1534 in the flamboyant Gothic and Renaissance styles on the site of a former Romanesque chapel, Notre-Dame church was remodelled and restored in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Located on the Pilgrim's Way to Santiago de Compostela, it houses the Saint-Roch chapel, once dedicated to pilgrims. It is the highest monument in the Deux-Sèvres department. The Gothic spire of its bell tower reaches a height of 75 metres! It is said to be the work of the fairy Mélusine, half-woman and half-snake, who, surprised in her work, forgot to lay the last stone!

Step 5: Les 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 6: Musée Bernard d'Agesci

The former girls' high school, built by Georges Lasseron in 1897, now houses three museums in one: Fine Arts (sculpture, painting, decorative arts, silversmithing, violin making...), Natural History (regional geology, ornithology...), educational conservatory (school objects and furniture, scientific apparatus, maps, school books and films... tracing a century and a half of teaching).

Step 7: Le Pilori

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). Artists are on hand from Tuesday to Saturday, 1pm to 7.30pm (free admission).

Step 8: Église Saint-André

Proudly standing on the highest hill in Niort, the church designed by Pierre-Théophile Segrétain, the first architect of the Monuments Historiques des Deux-Sèvres, looks like a cathedral with its two 70-metre high spires.
First built in the 11th century, the church endured the Wars of Religion and the Revolution before being completely rebuilt in the 19th century in the neo-Gothic style. At the end of the 17th century, Saint-André church was said to be "the most beautiful and largest in the province", and historically older than Notre-Dame.
During the French Revolution, it was largely destroyed and renamed the "Temple de la Montagne". In 2015, like the church of Saint-Hilaire in Niort by the same builder, it was included on the supplementary list of historic monuments.

Step 9: Le Centre Du Guesclin

Like all cities, Niort mobilises its citizens to defend its territory. The bourgeois militia kept watch to make the streets safe. In 1621, Louis XIII transformed it into the Royal Niort regiment.
The exactions in Protestant Poitou at the end of the 17th century led the King to keep soldiers in Niort, whose accommodation was provided by the inhabitants.
To relieve the population, it was decided to build a barracks in 1732 and the work was completed in 1751. It was occupied by 43 cavalry regiments over more than 160 years. One of the most illustrious is the 7th HUSSARDS regiment, stationed there from 1892 to 1919, which distinguished itself during the Napoleonic Wars, the 1870 War and the Great War.
The military use of the site disappeared in the second half of the 20th century. The Centre Duguesclin is now home to various public and cultural establishments.

Step 10: La Sèvre Niortaise

The Sèvre Niortaise meanders endlessly like an eel. Criss-crossed by the GR 36, its green valley, with its shady banks dominated by wooded hillsides, brings peace and freshness to walkers. It's an open-air mosaic of colours - blue, yellow, green... - and gentle, smiling landscapes. The blue gold of the Niort region is one of the richest rivers in France. In fact, its name derives from the Celtic word for nourishing sap. Take the side roads to discover the small, unassuming monuments that reflect the country soul of the villages.

Step 11: Les halles de Niort

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, which no longer exist.

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