Palace of Poitiers

Poitiers, France

The Palace of Justice in Poitiers was the seat of the Counts of Poitou and Dukes of Aquitaine in the 10-12th centuries. The former Merovingian kingdom of Aquitaine was re-established by Charlemagne for his son Louis the Pious; in the 9th century, a palace was constructed or reconstructed for him, one among many, above a Roman wall datable to the late 3rd century, at the highest spot of the town. Louis stayed there many times as a king and then returned to the palace after becoming, in 839 and 840. The palatium was specifically called a palace in the reign of Charles the Bald. After the disintegration of the Carolingian realm, the palace became the seat of the Counts of Poitiers. The first palace of Poitiers was completely destroyed by a fire in 1018.

The palace was completely rebuilt, straddling the wall, by the Count-Dukes of Aquitaine, then at the pinnacle of their power. In 1104, Count William IX added a donjon on the town side. It is known as the tour Maubergeon, after his mistress Amauberge, wife of Vicomte Aimery de Châtellerault and grandmother of Eleanor of Aquitaine. The rectangular keep is reinforced with four smaller square towers projecting from each corner; it was greatly damaged when the southern portion of the palace was set ablaze by Henry of Grosmont in 1346.

Between 1191 and 1204, Eleanor fitted up a dining hall, the Salle des Pas Perdus, the 'hall of lost footsteps', where a footfall was silenced by the vastness of its space— 50 metres in length, 17 metres in width, perhaps the largest in contemporary Europe. The hall has not retained its original beamed ceiling; it has been covered by chestnut woodwork, constructed in 1862 by a team of marine carpenters from La Rochelle. The walls of the hall are daubed and painted so as to imitate stone facing. Their monotony is relieved by cusped arches resting on slender columns. A stone bench rings the walls of the hall.

In 1384-86 Jean I, duc de Berry, who was also appanage count of Poitiers, rebuilt the part of the palace which had been destroyed by fire. On the one hand, the donjon and the ramparts were reconstructed; on the other hand, the private apartments were restored in the Gothic Flamboyant style by Jean's court architect and sculptor Guy de Dammartin. These works were undertaken between 1388 and 1416, during pauses in the course of the Hundred Years' War.

The tour Maubergeon was reconstructed on three floors with ogival vaulting, illuminated by glazed windows and topped by nineteen statues. Of these, only sixteen pieces survive: they represent the duke's counsellors in clerical habits, while the statues of the duke and his wife are missing. In its unfinished state, the tower has neither machicolations nor canopies above the statues.

At the behest of Guy de Dammartin, three monumental stoves were installed in the grand hall; they were decorated with Gothic Flamboyant statuary and surmounted by a gallery. The southern wall of the hall was also overhauled: it was pierced by great bays which masked the pipes from outside view. The exterior of this wall was decorated with flamboyant ogives. The floor was tiled by Jehan de Valence, called 'the Saracen' in the accounts, with green and gold circular lustred maiolica tiles. When the project was complete, Jehan de Valence returned home to Valencia, and no further lustred tin-glazed faience was produced in France.

The count-dukes sometimes administered justice in the great hall. It was there that Hugues de Lusignan, comte de la Marche, publicly challenged Louis IX on Christmas Day, 1241. After the province of Poitou was reattached to the royal domain, la salle des pas perdus was renamed la salle du Roi ('the royal hall'). A judicial institution, le parlement royal, sat there from 1418 to 1436.

The palace was used for administering justice: on 5 June 1453 Jacques Coeur was tried there, and justice was dispensed in the Palais de Justice through the French Revolution. In 1821, a monumental staircase with a Doric portico was attached to the medieval building. Too soon to benefit from interest generated by the Gothic Revival, the duc de Berry's private apartments were gradually demolished to give room to the appellate court and its chancery.



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Founded: 12th century
Category: Castles and fortifications in France
Historical period: Birth of Capetian dynasty (France)

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User Reviews

marie boisson (4 months ago)
Extraordinary palace of the Counts of Poitiers with the Maubergeon Tower Art for Art’s sake.. everything is spectacularly grandiose. Alienor of Aquitaine plays a major role, Queen of France and then of England, what a sacred destiny! The guide is absolutely extraordinary, the details provide a beautiful insight into the culture of this Palace, a very interesting, cultured and very friendly guide! thanks thanks
Ian Bake (2 years ago)
When I visited it, there was nothing much inside except for a interactive plasticine ball art piece. But the architecture is something to be appreciated. The main hall is pretty imposing, being huge with exposed roof elements. There is also a very large fireplace at one end of the hall. Brings to mind how difficult it was to heat such a large space. There is also a room where the floor was made of mirrors. So be careful if you are wearing a dress! It was free to enter the justice house for me.
Paul Pérucaud (2 years ago)
2016 project, a double objective: 1/ A new judicial city or Palace of Justice to perpetuate the future of a 19th century building protected by Historic Monuments. This judicial city is located in the former private Lycée des Feuillants, a 17th century monastery, from 1806 to 2010 it will be a school then a high school. 2/ Highlight the old palace. Notices concern the former courthouse which became that of the Counts of Poitou or the Dukes of Aquitaine, located Pl. Alphonse Lepetit, 86000 Poitiers. For those who know the old Salle des Pas Perdus, the news is a shock, that of modernity.
Jean Michel CONNOIS (2 years ago)
Very interesting, we only visit 2 rooms: the large room of the lost steps and the large tower. It is very beautiful and very old. A lot of history has happened here. It's free. Short guided tour of the great tower. The guide is very nice. He gives us lots of information about the history of the castle. It is in the historic center.
Skelka (4 years ago)
It's just magnificent, lovers of beautiful stones this place is a must! An atmosphere emerges from this courthouse, the walls which undoubtedly have ears have so much history to tell... The architecture is of great beauty with its magnificent fireplace divided into 3 parts and what can we say about the framework... The visit to the tower is really worth the detour, the effect of the mirror floor is unsettling at first but it is also a genius idea to magnify this room.
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