Niort has an interesting historical centre, with houses and other buildings dating from the medieval and renaissance era and also several monuments of interest to discover, as well as a substantial amount of more recent development – it is an important centre for local business and finance in this region of France.
The old and new parts of central Niort are separated by the large Place de la Breche. Among the major sites are:
The Donjon, on the river banks in Niort, is the major part of a medieval castle and the most important monument in Niort that dominates the town centre. In part the donjon dates from the 12th century, when it was built in the roman style by Henry II (Henry Plantagenet) and Richard the Lionheart, and is one of the largest castles from this period that remains in France.
In fact the building includes two adjacent donjons, similar in design but one a few metres taller than the other, both with round towers in each corner. The views from the donjon terraces across the town are a highlight of a visit, and there is also a Museum of Ethnology and Archaeology in the building.
On an island in the river just across from the donjon you can see Fort Foucault, the tower of which is the remains of a 12th century castle.
The Pilori is an interesting renaissance style building dating from the 14th century that was once the town hall for Niort. The building takes its name from the pillory that previously stood here. The whole building, in particular around the doors and windows, features decorative stonework. The pilori is now used as an exhibition center for local artists.
There are several churches in Niort of which the most important is the Church of Notre-Dame (14th-16th century, gothic style). The tall spire of the church makes it the tallest building in the Deux-Sevres department.
Also in Niort you will see the Church of Saint-André (a 19th century rebuilding of a medieval church that originally stood here, clearly identified by its two tall symmetrical spires); the small Church of Saint-Florent (roman style, 11th century) which has some unusual engravings inset in the church walls; and the Church of Saint-Etienne (19th century, built in neo-gothic style).
The Town hall is an imposing neo-renaissance style building with a large central campanile built at the end of the 19th century.
The 19th century market hall, a large structure built in the glass and steel design that was popular at the time (1869). It is one of the most impressive market halls of this type in France, and the market itself has a very extensive range of fresh produce available. Markets are held here every day except Monday with those on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday being the largest.
Elsewhere as you explore Niort old town you will see several half-timbered houses dating from the 15th and 16th centuries.
Niort is a popular base for exploring the unusual canals and marsh landscapes of the Marais Poitevin. The footpath along the banks of the Sèvre river in the town centre and towards the Marais Poitevin is a popular place for walking, jogging and fishing.
Note: photo shows a pretty bridge just outside Niort