Most visited site in the Var, Thoronet Abbey is one of only three Cistercian abbeys in Provence, with the Sénanque in the Vaucluse and the Silvacane located in the Bouches-Rhone. It also includes the three sites under the affectionate name of "three small Provencal Sisters"
Founded in the 12th century by a small community of about twenty monks only, Thoronet Abbey is the second oldest Cistercian site of Provence. The oldest is the Abbey Sainte-Marie-de-Florièyes Tourtour in the Var, where settled first the small founding community Thoronet, from the Abbey of Marzan in Ardèche. The monks remained in Tourtour few years before moving among the woodlands Thoronet best suited to the expectations and needs of their community life, thanks to the presence of several water sources.
In the 13th century, the abbey is successful if its own economy is based on agriculture and livestock, it also receives significant donations from the lords of Castellane. It has numerous and strategic territories, such as salt marshes of Marignane on the coast or the Etang de Berre. Provencal community of Cistercian monks is a central actor of local trade especially through its salt production and sheep breeding activity. Its power and prosperity are a reflection of the general power of the Cistercian order in Christendom during the 12th and 13th century.
Its decline began in the 14th century, like many Cistercian monasteries affected in turn by economic difficulties and damage during the Hundred Years War, the Great Plague that decimated religious communities as well as civilian populations by the papal crisis Grand west Schism, and deep internal crises Catholic reform. The 18th century sign the twilight of order, marked in particular by the vote of its removal by the National Assembly in 1790.
After a period of great prosperity, Abbey Thoronet is affected like other Cistercian sites by internal crises and wars of religion. In 1660, the prior of the abbey reflects the worrying state of disrepair of the buildings and the growing need of restoration. Thirty years later, testimonies evoke woodwork broken and dilapidated and the roof collapses parts.
In the late 18th century, after the revolution, the abbey of Thoronet yet still home to a handful of monks seven older religious living in destitute conditions.
In 1791, the abbey was sold as national property but continues to decay. The inhabitants of the surrounding villages come to serve as stones in a freely accessible careers. In 1854 it was bought by the State: discovered by Prosper Mérimée, which reports its status to the architect of the time Monuments Historical Henry Révoil, it begins to benefit from the early work of securing and restoration in 1873. The the bulk of the restoration work will be undertaken in 1906 by the architect and archaeologist Jules Formigé specializing in monuments in the south of France.
Thoronet Abbey is distinguished by its strict Romanesque architecture: the mix of light sources to the rigor of architectural lines through the acoustics of the abbey, everything is designed in full compliance with the original spirit of the Cistercian order.
If the scriptorium, the kitchen or the dining hall have unfortunately disappeared, the site keeps intact the trapezoidal cloister and central lavatorium, the abbey church, the chapter house, dormitory and storeroom.