The city is established since its beginnings on top of a rocky promontory situated at the confluence of both the Clain and the Boivre rivers. The history of Poitiers begins with the Roman conquest, during the first century B.C.. Called Lemonum, the city becomes the capital of a large territory inhabited by the Gaul tribe of the Pictons. A first urban grid appears, structured by a few streets, a forum, and and other public buildings including baths and an amphitheatre. A huge city wall is built around the end of the 3rd century A.D.
During the Early Middle Ages, the impact of religion changes the city's contour. If the beginnings of Christianity are illustrated by the construction of the baptistery (around the 4th century), the Romanesque period corresponds to numerous (re)constructions, such as the churches of Notre-Dame-la-Grande, Saint-Porchaire, Saint-Germain, the collegiate churches of Saint-Radegund, Saint-Hilary, Saint-Peter's cathedral (begun in 1160) and the abbey of Saint-Jean-de-Montierneuf.
This is a period of peace and prosperity for the city, then under the government of the powerful Counts of Poitou-Dukes of Aquitaine. Their palace is raised on the peak of the promontory, symbolically face-to-face with the episcopal quarter built on the west slope.
During the late Middle Ages, gardens and vineyards still occupy most of the space behind the city walls. Slowly, architecture and ornamentation reveal the influence of the Renaissance style from the nearby Loire Valley : fine town houses appear between half-timbered buildings.
In the 17th century, the powerful impulse of the Counter Reformation encouraged the arrival of around fifteen new religious orders, whose vast convents and gardens permanently remodelled the city landscape.
Slowly however, the city fell asleep, frozen in its network of streets that had not evolved since medieval times, and limited by a now useless city wall. The opening of new boulevards, and attempts to improve access to the city centre, will only begin in the late 18th, and especially during the 19th centuries.
At the dawn of the 20th century, suburbs start to develop beyond the ancient site formerly determined by the Boivre and Clain rivers, reaching the neighbouring plateaus after the Second World War.
Even with such a rich history, the city doesn't remain locked in an unchanging urban landscape. The 20th century marked in turn the familiar aspect of the old city with ambitious architectural projects, using new materials and different volumes.
In the heart of the town, contemporary buildings dialogue not only with the surrounding historical structures, but with the very history of the block where they are built. Frequently architects choose to illustrate this idea of continuity by cleverly combining ancient remains and modern creations. Contemporary buildings thus often preserve fragments of their ground's memory (of interest : Musée Sainte-Croix, Conseil Regional, Conseil Général, François-Mitterrand Media-Library, Cordeliers shopping centre, or the brand new Theatre and Auditorium).
In order to discover this rich urban and monumental heritage, visitors can follow the « Chemins de Notre Dame » : three different visiting paths indicated directly on the ground by coloured lines, helping you to discover different quarters of the old town at your own pace (allow 1:30 to 2 hours for each). Starting from Notre-Dame-la-Grande, each path is traced as a loop, bringing you back to your starting point. Information concerning monuments and sites is situated on lecterns and wall plaques all along each circuit : Blue Path, Red Path, Yellow Path.