The "Marais Poitevin", (the Marsh of Poitou)
or rather the Marais Poitevins (plural)
Marais Poitevin is one of the rare wet zones of France and after
the Camargue, it is the second largest.
It is made up of 75
municipalities, two regions, Poitou-Charentes and Pays de Loire,
three departments, Deux-Sèvres, Charente-Maritime and Vendee.
"Marais Poitevins" spreads out from Niort in Deux-Sèvres, to the
Bay of l'Aiguillon in Vendee, with a small curve into
The Marais Poitevin covers overall approximately 100 000
hectares and the length from east to west, from Niort to the
ocean, is 70 km.
The Sèvre Niortaise is the main river which feeds the marsh.
" wet marshes " cover 30 000 hectares of easily flooded zones.
They owe their name to the fact that they constitute the zones
which are covered by the spreading floods of the rivers. The
part situated between Niort and Maillé is nicknamed " Venice
Verte " "Green Venice". Nature is the mistress here and it is
still very protected.
The "Marais Desséchés" (Dried out Marshes) are in fact a set of
polders for culture and breeding.
The "Marais Maritime" (maritime marsh) is formed by the bay of
the l'Aiguillon, which is the remaining part of the big maritime
A bit of history
Originally, the gulf of
Pictons extended to Niort, with
limestone islands. The sea withdrew and the bay was
filled with alluviums.
The marsh is artificial and we know today that it is the
result of 10 centuries of
organisation and work.
There were monks, who in the 11th
Century began work to drain the land
to allow the rainwater
to evacuate, and who dug all the canals to lower the level of the water, limit the floods and to reclaim the land in order to cultivate it.
The work of the monks was
interrupted by the war of 100 years and the religious wars. During the reign of Henry IV, the
work started again and with the help of the Dutch, continued until the end of the 18th
Tradition says that the name
of Marais Poitevin came about
because the monks came from Poitiers.
One is struck by the layout
of the canals which are not straight and have many bends. The generally accepted explanation
is that this conception could slow down the water currents.