I had heard Villers Abbey was a must-visit while in Belgium, but I must say that it was much more impressive in person than in photos! Pictures simply do not do this place justice.
Villers Abbey was founded in 1146, operated for a whopping 650 years, and was abandoned in 1796. That means it has been left for ruins for 225 years – abandoned just 20 years after America signed the Declaration of Independence. Talk about humbling! Europe is full of ancient historical gems, and this special place is no exception. We loved wandering what was still intact of the abbey and imagining what the stained glass must’ve looked like hundreds of years ago…
Located in Villers-la-Ville in the region of Wallonia, this abbey is nestled nicely into the surrounding hills so it is not apparent until cresting the last hill – at which point the grandness of the place becomes apparent. It is suspected that nearly 400 people – 100 Cistercian monks and lay brothers – inhabited these grounds at one time. It survived through many tumultuous times, but eventually the monks lost their funds and had to leave during the French Revolution.
At the end of the 19th century, Belgium purchased the site and made efforts to preserve it, and in the 1970’s the site was declared an official historic site. The complete historic timeline can be viewed on the Villers Abbey website here. Parking is free and entrance fees are as follows: adults € 9 and children € 4. Audio guides are also available, but not during the pandemic. There is no food services on the premises, but there are rest rooms and a gift shop.
Villers Abbey in Numbers: The entire grounds of the Abbey were over 100 square kilometers at one time, but today only <1 square kilometer is preserved for the 100,000+ visitors per year. In 2012, a medicinal herb garden was planted consisting of over 100 medicinal plants. 50,000 square meters of walls preserved makes it one of the largest archaeological sites in Belgium.
Today, not only the abbey church ruins remain, but also the cloister, refectory, kitchens, dormitories, and brewing house can be seen. This is also a burial ground for Dukes and Duchesses of Brabant. There is no question…this place is inspiring even in its aftermath. The nearly-three story height of the walls stretch the eyes skyward and remind us what we humans are capable of when we work together with vision, purpose, faith and teamwork.