History of Villers Abbey Ruins once visited by Victor Hugo

Villers Abbey Victor Hugo ABANDONED SPACES
Among the numerous visitors to stay at Villers Abbey was Victor Hugo. The Villers Abbey ruins, located in the Commune of Villers-la-Ville in Belgium, are more than 900 years old, but some parts of it look quite futuristic.
Villers Abbey Victor Hugo

The Villers Abbey ruins, located in the Commune of Villers-la-Ville in Belgium, are more than 900 years old, but some parts of it look quite futuristic. Recently a group of modern architects renovated some of the surviving parts, keeping the same characteristic medieval architecture.

The history of the Abbey of Villers-la-Ville dates back to the 12th century when Cistercian monks from the Abbey of Clairvaux were sent out to start a second Abbey in the name of St. Bernard. Built in 1146, a dozen monks and 3 lay brothers came from Clairvaux to the Walloon Brabant province of Wallonia to establish a Cistercian abbey. After a few false starts in what turned out to be less than ideal locations, abbaye de Villers started to come together, and although it took 70 years, the abbey came to fruition when the refectory was finally finished in 1267.

Villers Abbey Victor Hugo

The Villers Abbey flourished as a cultural and agricultural center until the end of the Middle Ages. After that, religious and political troubles caused unrest until the 18th century when the Abbaye Viller-la-Ville experienced a second Golden Age under the rule of Joseph II and later also under Leopold II. The whole complex was partially destroyed in 1789 and later in 1794. It was completely abandoned in 1796. The main reason why the life at the abbey stopped was the beginning of the French Revolution and the turbulent events that came out from it.

Disregarded for almost 100 years, the state of Belgium finally stepped in, bought the property and began conservation efforts, which kicked into a considerably higher gear by the 1970s once it was declared an official historic site. Among the numerous visitors to stay there was Victor Hugo, who wrote about the abbey prison in his masterpiece Les Misérables.

Villers Abbey Victor Hugo

Currently, the Villers Abbey, which represents 900 years of history, hosts a wide variety of activities including open-air concerts, exhibitions, activity days and family discovery walks. While most of the buildings of the former abbey are only partially destroyed, there are some parts of it, like the home and infirmary of the converts and the dormitory of the monks, that were demolished entirely throughout the years, but today, their foundations are still visible. With a little help of the imagination, every visitor can easily picture the daily routine of the monks of the Cistercian order.

The site of the Villers Abbey is pretty big, and you can easily spend 1 to 3 hours exploring the ruins. I visited the abbey on a Saturday, and although there were some other visitors, it was far from being crowded. The abbey also boasts beautiful gardens, full of medicinal plants and space for meditation. Two of them were opened in 2012, the Medical Herb Garden and the Pharmacy Garden, and two new gardens were opened in 2015. The gardens were inspired by Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th-century abbess whose work was based on natural remedies. The old abbey’s laundry is adapted into a brewery and produces four beers from old recipes.

Villers Abbey Victor Hugo

Located in the commune of Villers-la-Ville, Belgium – about halfway between Brussels and Charleroi – Abbaye de Villers (Villers Abbey) is the most complete site of a Cistercian abbey anywhere in Europe. It spans over 30 hectares of land.

The interior of the mill is reconstructed with new materials and in interactive and futuristic way tells the story about one of the most important abbeys of the order. It has a visitor center with a shop, a museum of the Cistercian order and a models room.

How To Get to the Villers Abbey

Villers Abbey Victor Hugo

The easiest and most flexible way to reach Villers Abbey is by car. There’s a free parking lot close to the entrance. Address: Rue de l’Abbaye 55, Villers-la-Ville

If you rely on public transport, there’s a train to Villers-la-Ville that will leave you 1,5 kilometres from the entrance of the abbey. It’s a 1-hour train ride from Brussels (you’ll have to switch trains) and a 25-minute walk to get to the abbey.

Photos of Villers Abbey

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