Villers Abbey (abbaye de Villers) is an ancient Cistercian abbey in Villers-la-Ville. In 1146, 12 Cistercian monks and three lay brothers from Clairvaux came to Villers in order to establish the abbey on land granted them by Gauthier de Marbais. After establishing several preliminary sites, work was finally undertaken in the 13th century to build the current site. The choir was constructed by 1217, the crypt by 1240, and the refectory by 1267. The church itself took 70 years to build and was completed by the end of the century.
During this period, the abbey reached the height of its fame and importance. Contemporary accounts suggest that roughly 100 monks and 300 lay brothers resided within its walls, although this is possibly an exaggeration. The lands attached to the abbey also expanded considerably, reaching some 100 km² of woods, fields, and pasturage.
Decline set in during the 16th century, tied to the larger troubles of the Low Countries. Spanish tercios, during the campaign of 1544, did considerable damage to the church and cloister, both of which were partially restored in 1587.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the abbey's fortunes continued to diminish. The number of monks and the abbey's wealth dwindled, and it was finally abandoned in 1796 in the wake of the French Revolution.
The church, although in ruins, is an outstanding example of Cistercian architecture, with imposing vaulting, arches, and rose windows.References:
Derbent is the southernmost city in Russia, occupying the narrow gateway between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains connecting the Eurasian steppes to the north and the Iranian Plateau to the south. Derbent claims to be the oldest city in Russia with historical documentation dating to the 8th century BCE. Due to its strategic location, over the course of history, the city changed ownership many times, particularly among the Persian, Arab, Mongol, Timurid, Shirvan and Iranian kingdoms.
Derbent has archaeological structures over 5,000 years old. As a result of this geographic peculiarity, the city developed between two walls, stretching from the mountains to the sea. These fortifications were continuously employed for a millennium and a half, longer than any other extant fortress in the world.
A traditionally and historically Iranian city, the first intensive settlement in the Derbent area dates from the 8th century BC. The site was intermittently controlled by the Persian monarchs, starting from the 6th century BC. Until the 4th century AD, it was part of Caucasian Albania which was a satrap of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. In the 5th century Derbent functioned as a border fortress and the seat of Sassanid Persians. Because of its strategic position on the northern branch of the Silk Route, the fortress was contested by the Khazars in the course of the Khazar-Arab Wars. In 654, Derbent was captured by the Arabs.
The Sassanid fortress does not exist any more, as the famous Derbent fortress as it stands today was built from the 12th century onward. Derbent became a strong military outpost and harbour of the Sassanid empire. During the 5th and 6th centuries, Derbent also became an important center for spreading the Christian faith in the Caucasus.
The site continued to be of great strategic importance until the 19th century. Today the fortifications consist of two parallel defence walls and Naryn-Kala Citadel. The walls are 3.6km long, stretching from the sea up to the mountains. They were built from stone and had 73 defence towers. 9 out of the 14 original gates remain.
In Naryn-Kala Citadel most of the old buildings, including a palace and a church, are now in ruins. It also holds baths and one of the oldest mosques in the former USSR.
In 2003, UNESCO included the old part of Derbent with traditional buildings in the World Heritage List.