World Heritage # 6: The Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay

As part of a series specially devoted to French sites recognized as World Heritage by UNESCO, we invite you to discover one by one the exceptional French destinations, preserved as heritage of humanity. We continue this series with a Burgundy site recognized in 1981, the Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay.

Situated in the Bourgogne Franche-Comté region, in the Côte-d'Or department in the town of Marmagne, the Cistercian abbey of Fontenay was founded in 1119 by Saint-Bernard de Clairvaux. Built in a remote location, near springs and fertile land, the sober edifice emerges from the landscape. Its church, its cloister, its refectory, its dormitory, its bakery and its forge, are the preserved witnesses of the quest for autarky and simplicity of the first communities of Cistercian monks. Fontenay remains, moreover, one of the most complete and preserved examples of the search for autonomy and the deprivation of the Cistercians. The transformations undergone over the centuries have not altered the whole. The restoration of 1906 enabled the abbey to regain its integrity and authenticity.

A simple and uncluttered Romanesque architecture

The Latin cross basilica plan, the nave with blind walls, the transept, the cloister and the chapter house are surprisingly sober. They perfectly reflect the technical sophistication of the Cistercian community. The proportions, the rigor of the openings, the technicality of the vaults, as well as the quality of the cut stones confirm the major role of the Cistercians in the technical progress of the Middle Ages.


A set of great functionality

The abbey has kept other community buildings within its walls. The dormitories, the heating room, the refectory, the infirmary, the hotel, the bakery, the hydraulic hammer, the mill and the forge are thus honored. They make this complex, moreover, one of the oldest industrial buildings in France.

The Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay is an architectural gem nestled in lush greenery

The Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay is a private property open to visitors. It has been classified as a historical monument since 1862. The buildings are decorated with an imposing landscaped park. In 2004, he was also classified "Remarkable Garden" by the National Council of Parks and Gardens. The large French-style gardens and landscaped gardens offer the public the opportunity to discover a wide variety of plantings and hundred-year-old trees. The abbey is nestled in the hollow of a valley of over 1 hectares. It is thus surrounded by the forests of Fontenay and Marmagne. The whole is located in the heart of a vast site classified in 200. The protection of the building is therefore ensured under the Heritage Code and the Environmental Code.

Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay seen from the sky

Fontenay today

Each year, 100 visitors flock to discover this architectural, historical, but also natural gem. Free or guided tours allow you to visit the abbey and the gardens, as well as the lapidary museum. Fontenay is frequently used as a cinema set for historical films. Scenes of the three musketeers, Angélique Marquise des Anges, Cyrano de Bergerac, the child of the wolves, the Marquise des ombres and many others, were thus shot in these magnificent places steeped in history.

Fontenay Abbey

Continue the visit to Burgundy

Once the visit to Fontenay is over, many discoveries await the most curious visitors. The Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans, the basilica and hill of Vézelay, the citadel of Besançon or the lake sites of Chalain and Clairvaux... But also the Chapel of Notre-Dame du Haut or the Great Saltworks of Salins les Bains can be visited all year round. Wine lovers will also discover the marvelous perfumes and aromas of the Burgundy vineyard.