Le Donjon de Niort, the work of the Plantagenets, and its museum

On the banks of the Sèvre Niortaise, stands one of France's most beautiful groups of twin Romanesque keeps.

Classified as a historic monument in 1840, the Donjon de Niort is the first of its kind in Niort, and is of exceptional importance for the history of military construction in the Middle Ages.


A little history...

Initially, it was a vast quadrilateral castle, 700m long and armed with a dozen towers.

At the end of the 12th century, Henry II Plantagenet, King of England, decided to rebuild the Château de Niort as an impregnable fortress, in order to develop and defend the estates that his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, had given him through her marriage.

It was built on the site of a Merovingian castle, burnt down by the Normans.

"The two keeps are square; the southern one measures 13.50 m. on a side, the northern one 15 m. x 14 m; they are respectively 28 m. and 23 m. high.


Their layout is similar: a solid cylindrical tower 5 m in diameter encloses each corner, and a hemi-cylindrical central buttress consolidates the walls. The southern keep, built in the 12th century, is the taller of the two (28 m.). It is a typical example of the military architecture of the period.

At the beginning of the 13th century, the burghers of Niort were besieged by the surrounding Poitevin lords (Lusignan, Parthenay), who blocked the town and the passage of goods. The blockade lasted several years, and Niort was threatened by famine. The castle, which had its own supply routes, became the town's only supply point. It was also linked to Fort Foucault by a wooden bridge, and probably also to the fortified mills built on the islets in the middle of the Sèvre.

In the second half of the 13th century, to make the Donjon a more comfortable place to live, the open space between the two towers was covered and a large central hall was built.

It gradually lost its military aspect. After withstanding many attacks and sieges, it came very close to being destroyed. One morning in 1749, the north tower collapsed, shaking the rest of the building. The Keep was finally restored in 1751. The three magnificent diamond vaults on the first floor (now known as the lower rooms), models of architecture and stereotomy, date from this period.

From the 18th century onwards, the Donjon was used as a prison. Crews of English sailors whose ships had been seized were sent there. Restoration work began in 1820, at the same time as the dismantling of the castle and ramparts surrounding the town. Classified as a historic monument in 1840, the Donjon was inhabited by families of city employees or used to house the departmental archives.

In 1870, the Département handed over ownership of the Donjon to the town, but it continued to be occupied until the early 20th century.


The Donjon Museum

It was following France's first national ethnology congress, held in Niort in 1896, that the Donjon finally found its contemporary vocation. It was to house the first Poitevin costume museum.

The Musée du Donjon, which has been awarded the Musée de France label, hosts temporary exhibitions. A permanent exhibition recounts and explains the history of the town and the keep. The architectural evolution of the keep, from the 12th century to the present day, is brought to life by 3D modeling. Explanatory panels, dioramas, a film projection and a general topographical model of the medieval town bring the past to life.

Guided tours of the monument are also available. The lower hall is devoted to regional archaeology, while the upper floor of the central building features Poitevin furniture - a reconstruction of a Poitevin interior, and an insight into the daily life of a Niort family at the end of the 19th century.
Niortais family in the late 19th century.

Since June 6, 2014, the Cachot Noir has been home to the Donjon's new archaeological collections. Access to the terrace offers a vast panoramic view of the surrounding area.


Le Donjon de Niort

Rue Duguesclin,

79000 Niort

Tel.: 05 49 28 14 28







To go further....

Le Donjon de Niort - Organisation d'un Chantier de Construction au XIIeme Siecle

Sur de nombreux blocs de pierre parmi les 16 000 qui constituent le donjon de Niort on a retrouvé des marques lapidaires représentant des symboles, des portraits, des outils ou des formes géométriques gravées par les ouvriers ou les constructeurs. Cet ouvrage recense l ensemble des marques ainsi que leur récurrence et leur localisation dans le donjon et en étudie le sens. Un ouvrage capital pour comprendre comment était construit le donjon et l ensemble des techniques de construction au xiie siècle : levage des blocs, taille des pierres, transport, calcul des mesures, vie des ouvriers.... Une étude inédite.
Je Découvre le Donjon de Niort

Un guide de visite accessible à tous. Dans ce livre, Isabelle Barrault et Simon Laplace proposent une (re)découverte du donjon de Niort. Les deux auteurs se basent sur les recherches les plus récentes pour expliquer l'architecture et l'histoire du célèbre édifice dans lequel de nombreux faits historiques mais aussi de nombreuses légendes trouvent leurs origines. Ses rôles militaires, défensifs, de logement, de réception, de milieu carcéral, de dépôt d'archives et d'espace muséal... Cet ouvrage est un guide pour percer tous les secrets de ce monument central de la ville de Niort. Une rédaction coordonnée par le président de la Société historique et scientifique des Deux-Sèvres. Des plans et des images inédites du donjon de Niort.
Le donjon du château de niort et son musée. notice historique et archéologique


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