A WEALTH OF HISTORY AND CULTURE
TEXT:KATIE TURNER | PHOTO © B DERBORD
“It’s a treasure trove,” says Laurence Lamy, director of Niort’s museums. Born and raised in the city, just an hour and a half’s drive south of Nantes in western France, she moved away not imagining she would be back in such an important role one day. “It was one of those ‘That’s how life goes’ situations. I just thought ‘Why not?’. There’s so much to do here!”
She is right. Between Niort’s 12th-century fortress, now the Musée du Donjon, and the collections in the Musée Bernard d’Agesci, visitors are spoilt for choice. In the Musée Bernard d’Agesci, you will find sculpture, natural history, scientific artifacts and art, including Islamic works, as part of an exhibit on education. Lamy is ready to welcome tourists from all over: “We have an interactive ‘tablet tour’ of the top exhibits in both museums, in English, for adults and children,” she explains.
The Musée du Donjon dominates Niort with impressive views across the surrounding countryside. The building has become one of the town’s key landmarks and was built on the orders of England’s King Henry II whose kingdom stretched well into France. By the 18th century, it was a prison for British sailors who fell foul of the French off the coast of La Rochelle, just 40 miles away.
The Musée Bernard d’Agesci is home to an impressive collection of both artworks and scientific exhibits and, in fact, comprises four smaller museums rehoused into the current building’s expansive, light-filled space. “There are 700 paintings, numerous artifacts, musical instruments, the list goes on,“ says Lamy. “We’re as at home here with art and history as we are with science and education.”
“We often have groups visiting where everyone wants to see a different thing, so they just split up and meet again in an hour,” Lamy laughs, “There’s really something for everyone.”