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Historical Heritage

A Perpetual City of Commerce

In 1203, Niort became one of the first communes of France, a little merchant republic administered by a mayor. This attic of merchandise formed a type of economic Hansa with Saint-Jean-d’Angély and La Rochelle in order to export produce (wheat, wine, wool ….) to far away places securely. From 1608, the Poitevins, settled in New France, kept links with the land of their origins. So it was quite natural that the skins which they collected or bought from the Indians came to the Niort leather works along the Sèvre Niortaise river. The leather industry prospered at the beginning of the XVIIth century and became even more prosperous in the XVIIIth century with the annexing of Canada and Terre-Neuve.

In the XIXth century it was with the wood industry and more particularly with poplar growing that the area enjoyed an economic revival. Since then the service industry has uprooted that business.

The Keep of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the sentinel of the Sèvre Niortaise river.

The sentinel is one of the largest twin romanesque keeps in France and the last remains of a huge castle. It is a building which is of the utmost importance for the history of military construction in the Middle Ages. The south tower, 28m high, was built by Henry II Plantagenet and Eleanor of Aquitaine whilst their son, Richard the Lionheart, erected the second keep which was situated to the north and was 23m high. The keep was extended and altered especially during the XVth and XVIIIth centuries. The access to the terrace with its orientation table means that you can enjoy a wide panoramic view of the town of Niort and the nearby Marais Poitevin. This pearl of the end of the XIIth century is home to archealogical collections (from the Bronze Age to the late Middle Ages) and since December 2012, a heritage centre relating through videos, 3D images and explanatory panels, the history of Niort and its most famous sentinel...

Bernard d’Agesci Museum : three museums in one

The Bernard d’Agesci museum is one of the largest museums in the Great West. Installed in a former high school, this museum presents three different sections over an area of 5000 m2 : Fine arts (paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, violin making, silverwork, china), Natural History (a space dedicated to living or extonct species of the Deux-Sèvres, two cabinets de curiosités about day and night birds and marsh and sea waders. And the school and teaching methods museum (the history of a century and a half of teaching). This museum is also the home to one of the rare national workshops for the restauration of paintings !

Niort Market Halls

Niort, was, from the XIIth century, an active merchant town thanks to its dynamic river port. This temple of gourmandise is a « cathedral » of wrought iron, glass and steel built in 1869, in Baltard style.

The Boinot Factories : former leather and gloves works

The XVIIIth century dyers was completed in 1881, by a leather works and 31 years later by a glove factory. , In 1939, Boinot was making 55 % of French production. The kid gloves were exported to England, Australia, Canada, Norway, Holland, Belgium and before the war in Germany. After a difficult time during the second world war, the company flourished again during the sixties. 3.000 people were employed in the workshops and at home and treated up to 600.000 skins a year and supplied gloves to the Vatican and royal courts ! With the decline in luxury gloves, Boinot diversified its product range : squares to wipe glasses or silverware, cap straps for the army, reinforced bottoms for cycling shorts... in 2002, chamois leather for cars was the star product of the company and represented more than 50 % of the turn over. The company finally closed down in 2006.

The National Street Arts Centre (CNAR)

The centre was set up in the former Boinot leather works in 2010. This cultural factory for national and international companies is one of the 9 national street arts centres nominated by the Ministry of Culture to accompany the building of new street shows (theatre, dance, fanfares, parades) and to encourage their development (residences to allow the artists to rehearse and financial support for creations to pay part of the salaries). The centre also fills one of the three main artistic fields of the town of Niort’s cultural policies, the two others being today’s music and visual arts. The centre works in a network on a regional level and creates partherships (from Niort to Guinea, through Cognac and Brussels). At the end of the residency, the show is tested first in Niort before moving to other towns or countries (presentation to a first public audience of parts of the show whilst it is being worled on – straight out of the workshop to help to adjust the actors’ performance and the movements of stage sets).
Don’t miss : Téciverdi, Bi-annual Festival of Biological and Cultural Diversity.

The Brèche Gardens

Niort’s second heart and a major place for commerce in the XVIIIth century, until the XXth century, the Breche was the place where the large agricultural and industrial fairs of the region were held. Today the Breche has found a new youthfulness. A large green space in the centre of the town, the Breche has become a place to stroll and the favourite meeting place for families and youngsters. Make the most of the huge esplanade for a break. The terraces of the bars and restaurants, in the shade of the hundred year old plane trees will allow you to appreciate the musical parades and other shows which bring the historical centre alive and strengthen the link between the Breche and the banks of the Sèvre Niortaise river. Enjoy this new space in the heart of the town.

The Pilory

Niort’s town hall until the Revolution, the Pilory is today a place for temporary exhibitions. In renaissance style, its decoration has been copied from the ch ateau of Azay-le-Rideau.
Since May 2009, a guest artist is given carte blanche each month. The town council encourages curiosity in relation to creation by contemporary local artists. Find the exhibition programme here.

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