Niort - Encyclopedia

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NIORT, a city of western France, chief town of the department of Deux-Sevres, 42 m. E.N.E. of La Rochelle on the railway to Saumur. Pop. (1906) 20,538. Niort is situated on the left bank of the Sevre Niortaise, partly in the valley and partly on the slopes of the enclosing hills. The tower of the church of Notre-Dame (15th and 16th centuries) has a spire 246 ft. high, with bell-turrets adorned with statues of the evangelists, and at the base a richly decorated dais in the Renaissance style; and the north doorway shows a balustrade, of which the balusters form the inscription 0 Mater Dei, memento mei. St Andre, with a fine window in the apse, and St Hilaire, which contains some beautiful frescoes, both date from the 19th century. Of the old castle, whose site is partly occupied by the prefecture, there remains the donjon - two large square towers united by a central building, flanked by turrets, built, it is said, by Henry II. of England or Richard Ceeur de Lion. The platform on the top affords a fine view of the public garden (one of the most picturesque in France) and the valley of the Sevre. The old town-hall, Renaissance in style, is wrongly known as the Alienor palace, after Eleanor of Guienne; it contains a collection of antiquities. The house is still shown in which Madame de Maintenon is erroneously stated to have been born. Near Niort are the fine feudal ruins of the fortress of Coudray-Salbart.

Niort is the seat of a prefect and a court of assizes, and has tribunals of first instance and of commerce, a board of tradearbitration, lycees for both sexes, a school of drawing, a chamber of commerce and a branch of the Bank of France. Tanning, currying, shammy-dressing, glove-making and the manufacture of brushes and boots and shoes are the staple industries.

Up to the 7th century the Niort plain formed part of the Gulf of Poitou; and the mouth of the Sevre lay at the foot of the hills now occupied by the town which grew up round the castle erected by Henry Plantagenet in 1155. The place was captured by Louis VIII. in 1224. By the peace of Bretigny it was ceded to the English; but its inhabitants revolted against the Black Prince, and most of them were massacred when his troops recovered the town by assault. In 1373 Duguesclin regained possession of the town for the French. Protestantism made numerous proselytes at Niort, and Gaspard de Coligny made himself master of the town, which successfully resisted the Catholic forces after the Battle of Jarnac, but surrendered without striking a blow after that of Moncontour. Henry IV. rescued it from the League. It suffered severely by the revocation of the edict of Nantes.

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