Le Thoronet Abbey expresses the very essence of Cisterican art with its extreme sobriety, pure lines and simple shapes dictated essentially by the organisation of community life. As such, it inspired generations of architects, as described by Fernand Pouillon in his novel Les Pierres Sauvages. Les Leçons du Thoronet is an event at which a leading contemporary architect (Eduardo Souto de Moura, Patrick Berger, etc) is invited to reflect on the buildings and create a temporary installation.
With its sister abbeys, Silvacane and Sénanque, Thoronet Abbey is one of three Cistercian abbeys in Provence. In 1136, a group of monks left Mazan Abbey in the Ardèche to found a monastery, which they built 15 years later near Lorgues, in a wooded place between the bend of a small river and a spring. Building work began in 1160 and continued until 1230. In the early 13th century, the monastery was home to around twenty monks and a similar number of lay brothers.
Decline and restoration
Less than two centuries later, the abbey had already begun to decline. In 1660, the abbot raised the question of restoring it. In 1699, cracks and collapsing roofs were recorded, along with broken doors and dilapidated windows. In 1790, seven elderly monks were still living there. The abbey seemed doomed to disappear when Prosper Mérimée* saved it by informing Révoil, the architect for historic monuments, of its existence. Restoration work began in 1841 and continues today. The State bought the site progressively from 1854 onwards.