The superb ruins of the cistercian abbey of Villers-la-Ville are one of the major sights of the province of Walloon Brabant.
In 1146, 12 monks, 1 abbot and 5 friars are sent from Champagne by St. Bernard of Clairvaux to set up an abbey in Villers.
The abbey enjoyed the protection of the Duke of Brabant, and attracted numerous rich devotees between 1190 and 1250. Most of the buildings date from this period.
From the mid-13th century, the finance of the abbey, which now has over 100 monks and 300 converts, deteriorate steadily. In the early 14th century, the abbey experiences difficulty to pay taxes, then is hit by plague. New troubles occured in the late 1300's, but abbots Otton de Dormael (1393-1424) and Gilles de Louvain (1424-1433) managed redress the finances and save the abbey from ruins.
From the late 15th century, the nomination of the abbots becomes more political under the influence of the Dukes of Burgundy. After a troubled period during the wars of religion in the 16th century, but the abbey experiences a new period of prosperity under Archdukes Albert and Isabela of Austria.
The abbey suffers from the wars of Louis XIV, but the 18th century brightens again, with most of the medieval buildings restored in the classical style.
The demise of the abbey of Villers came with the late 18th century revolutions. First, the abbey was devastated by the Austrian Imperial Army that came to crush the Brabantine Revolution of 1789, then plundered by French revolutionaries and local people in 1792 and 1794.
The abbey stayed abandoned during the 19th century, with several walls falling apart between 1844 and 1850. The ruins attracted Romantic artists such as Victor Hugo, but the buildings continued to crumble.
In 1893, the Belgian State expropriates the abbey and starts renovation works. In 1946, cistercian community of Val-Dieu proposes the return of monks to the abbey, but the Belgian State rejected the idea and the site remains used for tourism.
Opening Hours & Admission
The abbey is open from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm (until 5:00 pm from November to March, and closed on Tuesdays). It is closed on 24th, 25th, 31st December and 1st January.
Entry cost 3.80 € for adults, 2.5 € for students and people between 13 and 18 and over 60 years old, 1.3 € for children between 6 and 13 years old and free under 6 and for disabled people.
Guided tours take place every Sunday from April to October from 3:00 pm (6 €).
Note that the official website's French version has a virtual visits and a detailed history of the abbey.
How to get there
Villers-la-Ville is about 30km north-west of Namur and 45km south of Brussels. The quickest way by car is via the N5 (Brussels-Charleroi-Couvin).
By train, Villers-la-Ville is on the Brussels-Ottignies-Charleroi line (40min from Brussels-Luxembourg, 1h from Brussels-Central, or 22min from Charleroi-Ouest). The abbey is 1,6km from the train station.
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