Poitiers is strategically situated on the Seuil du Poitou, a shallow zone joining the Armorican to the Central Massif and connecting the Aquitaine Basin to the Paris Basin. The site of Poitiers is a vast promontory between the valleys of Boivre and Clain. The old town occupies the slopes and summit of a plateau which rises above the level of the streams by which it is surrounded on three sides.
People in Poitiers are called Pictaviens (masculine) and Pictaviennes (feminine) and 1 of every 3 people in Poitiers is under the age of 30 and 1 of every 4 people in Poitiers is a student.
Poitiers was founded as Limonum before Roman influence by the Pictones tribe, whose name it later adopted. Christianity was introduced in the 3rd century, and the first bishop of Poitiers, from 350 to 367, was Saint Hilarius. Fifty years later the city had fallen into the hands of the Arian Visigoths, and became one of the principal residences of their kings. Alaric II, one of their number, was defeated by Clovis I at Vouillé, not far from Poitiers, in 507, and the town became a part of the Frankish dominion.
Until 1857 Poitiers contained the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre more extensive than that of Nimes; remains of Roman baths, constructed in the 1st and demolished in the 3rd century, were laid bare in 1877; and in 1879 a burial-place and the tombs of a number of Christian martyrs were discovered on the heights to the south-east — the names of some of the Christians being preserved in paintings and inscriptions. Not far from these tombs is a huge dolmen (the "Pierre Levée"), long, broad and 6 or high, around which used to be held the great fair of St. Luke.
The first decisive Christian victory over Muslims — Battle of Tours — was fought by Charles Martel's men in the proximity of Poitiers on October 10, 732. It was one of the world's pivotal moments. 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."
In the Early Middle Ages, the town was the capital of Poitou, the region governed by the Counts of Poitiers. Eleanor of Aquitaine frequently resided in the city, which she embellished and fortified, and in 1199 entrusted with communal rights. The Battle of Poitiers was fought at Poitiers on September 19, 1356, during the Hundred Years' War.
In 1418, the royal parliament moved from Paris to Poitiers, where it remained in exile until the English withdrew from the capital in 1436. During this interval (1429) Joan of Arc was subjected to a formal inquest in the town. The University of Poitiers was founded in 1431. Also, John Calvin had numerous converts at Poitiers. Of the violent proceedings which attended the Wars of Religion, the city had its share. In 1569 it was defended by Gui de Daillon, comte du Lude, against Gaspard de Coligny, who after an unsuccessful bombardment retired from the siege at the end of seven weeks.
Poitiers is closely associated with the life of François Rabelais and with the community of Bitards. Many Acadians or Cajuns living in North America can trace ancestry to this region as their ancestors left from here in the 17th century. Michel Aco, the explorer, was also born here. Poitiers was bombed heavily during the World War II, particularly the area round the railway station. Among the 20th-century natives of the city was the influential French philosopher Michel Foucault.
One of the more recent famous Frenchwomen to come from the area is Florence Largeau more famous for her rendition of the ageless French classic the Connemara.
The type of political organisation existing in Poitiers during the late medieval / 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 senate to the town's peers and echevins, 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; we should note that not all Frenchmen in 1595 would have agreed with him, at least in public; many spoke in favour of absolute monarchy. We should also note that 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, Limogues, 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 sénécheusée. For example, in 1567, when Maxient 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 insure that the food supply would be adequate, visited markets.2
In the 1500s, 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 château."3
Poitiers has a railway station on the TGV route 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. By direct TGV it takes 1h30 to go to Paris : Montparnasse station.
The city of Poitiers has a very old university tradition. The University of Poitiers was established in 1431 and welcomed many famous thinkers (François Rabelais; René Descartes; Francis Bacon ). It is the second oldest university in France. Poitiers is nowadays one of the biggest student cities in France; it has more students per inhabitant than any other city in France. There are more than 27000 university students, nearly 4000 of them foreigners, from 117 countries. The University covers all major fields such as sciences, geography, history, languages. It had engineering (ENSMA; ESIP) and business schools (ESCEM; IAE).
Poitiers is twinned with:
This is a list of famous people or artists who were born or lived in Poitiers: