The name of the city derives either from the Bituriges, the name of the original inhabitants, or from the Germanic (French: Bourg. Spanish: Burgos. English, others: Burgh, , or Borough), for "hill/village". The Celts called it Avaricon; Latin-speakers: Avaricum.
In the Gallic Wars of 58-50 BC the Gauls practised a scorched earth policy, but the inhabitants of Avaricum begged not to have their city burned, and it was spared due to its good defences provided by the surrounding marshes and a strong southern wall. Following the siege of Avaricum in the winter of 52 BC, Julius Caesar's forces destroyed the city and killed all but 800 of its inhabitants.
Rome reconstructed Avaricum as a Roman city, with a monumental gate, aqueducts, thermae and an amphitheatre, reaching a greater size than it would attain during the Middle Ages. The massive walls surrounding the late Roman city, enclosing 40 hectares, were built in part with stone re-used from earlier public buildings.
The third-century AD Saint Ursinus, also known as Saint Ursin, is considered the first bishop of the city. Bourges is the seat of an archbishopric. During the 8th century Bourges lay on the northern fringes of the Duchy of Aquitaine and was therefore the first town to come under Frankish attacks when the Franks crossed the Loire. The Frankish Charles Martel captured the town in 731, but Duke Odo the Great of Aquitaine immediately re-took it. It remained under the rule of counts who pledged allegiance to the Aquitanian dukes up to the destructive assault by Pepin the Short on independent Aquitaine starting in 760, when Basque troops are found defending the town along with its count.
The Gothic Cathedral of Saint Etienne, begun at the end of the twelfth century, ranks as a World Heritage Site. It is considered the earliest example of the High Gothic style of the thirteenth century.
During the Middle Ages, Bourges served as the capital of the Viscounty of Bourges until 1101. In the fourteenth century it became the capital of the Duchy of Berry. The future king of France, Charles VII (reigned 1422-1461), sought refuge there in the 1420s during the Hundred Years' War. His son, Louis XI, was born there in 1423. In 1438, Charles VII decreed the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges. During this period, Bourges was also a major capital of alchemy.
The city has a long tradition of art and history. Apart from the cathedral, other sites of importance include the 15th-century Palace of Jacques Cœur and a sixty-five-hectare district of half-timbered houses and fine town-houses.