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Abbaye royale de Fontevraud/

The ideal city

Abbaye royale de Fontevraud

David Darrault

The Abbey de Fontevraud was one of the first Heritage Sites for Culture, being awarded the CCR label in 1976. Basing its activities on the theme of the ‘ideal city’, Fontevraud is a place of community, collaboration and dialogue.


Situated on the borders of the Anjou, Touraine and Poitou regions, the Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud is one of the largest surviving European monastic complexes of the Middle Ages. It was classed as a historic monument in 1840 and added to the UNESCO World Heritage List (along with the Loire Valley) in 2000. It was founded in 1101 by Robert d’Arbrissel, who stipulated that it be run by a succession of abbesses, housing both monks and nuns in its four priories – Sainte-Marie for the contemplative nuns, Sainte-Marie-Madeleine for the lay sisters, Saint-Jean-de l’Habit for the monks and Sainte-Lazare for the nuns who cared for lepers. The size of the complex (14 hectares) reflected the importance of the abbey, which was directly attached to the royal court. Eleanor of Aquitaine made it a necropolis for the Plantagenet dynasty when she buried her husband Henry II and their son Richard the Lionheart there. Today, the recumbent statues of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II and Richard the Lionheart bear witness to the abbey’s prestigious royal past. In 1804, on the orders of Napoleon, the abbey was transformed into one of France’s toughest prisons.



Today, the royal abbey’s historical importance continues into the future with the project ‘Fontevraud – The Ideal City’, which sees the abbey as a living city, an experimental space to explore the concept of ‘living together’ through collaboration and dialogue. Fontevraud’s multidisciplinary project focuses on history, heritage, creativity, societal debate, art and live events. The project is based around four key elements – The Creative City, The Digital City, The Sustainable City and The City of Hospitality. Visitors are encouraged to interact and engage with the abbey, and the intellectual and artistic life of the site is centred on the key concepts of creativity, curiosity and debate.



All year round, Fontevraud undertakes a wide range of artistic and cultural activities including concerts, events, exhibitions, debates and conferences, artistic installations, residencies, professional meetings and workshops. In line with this work in creation and diffusion, Fontevraud offers education projects enabling children and students to discover or deepen their knowledge of artistic fields such as music, animation and graphic arts. There is also a historical dimension, whether this be medieval or more contemporary, as well as the exploration of current issues such as digital technology and sustainable development.

The presence of a hotel and a high-class restaurant make Fontevraud a thriving cultural tourism destination. Combining a way of life and cultural creativity, exhibitions and live performance, Fontevraud aims to develop and increase its audience, encouraging interaction with and between artists. The abbey is also home to a business centre, hosting numerous events, seminars, conferences and meetings.



Digital technology has given rise to a far-reaching and radical transformation with a significant impact on economics, politics, culture and society. Fontevraud decided several years ago to explore and experiment in three areas – digital technology and community, digital technology as a space and a tool for creativity, and as an opportunity to enhance the visitor experience and diversify audiences.