Montmajour Abbey in Arles

The Montmajour Abbey is an exceptional monument that bears witness to eight centuries of history and architecture in Provence. Situated two kilometers from the city of Arles, it dominates the whole plain of La Crau and once welcomed between 50 and 80 monks. It is composed of several buildings built between 949 and 1791 in a patchwork of architectural styles ranging from Romanesque style to classical by way of Gothic style. The Montmajour Abbey is an exceptional building and visitors can only marvel at the succession of historic monuments that stand on the rock of Montmajour, witnesses of another time.

History of the abbey

The necropolis is at the origin of the abbey. In the past, the monks buried the dead in this cemetery, whose tombs were dug out of the rock, then closed with a stone lid and covered with earth. Families would ask them to celebrate private masses.

In the 10th century, the Benedictine monks built the Saint-Pierre Hermitage, the first monument of the abbey. This semi-troglodyte chapel, unique in Provence, has been preserved as a whole. To enter it, you will have to go through a door carved into the wall of the enclosure. It is guarded by Saint-Pierre holding the key to paradise.

The abbey church then takes its place on the rock of Mont Majour. In the abbey’s troglodyte crypt, the monks preciously preserve a relic of the true cross. Many believers are attracted by this object of worship: it is the birth of the Pardon pilgrimage.

In the 12th century, the Sainte-Croix reliquarychapel was built outside the abbey in order to welcome pilgrims and let them gather in front of the relic, which is displayed every 3rd of May. The rest of the year, it is kept in the treasure room. It was at this time that the construction of the cloister began. This part of the abbey is the spiritual and human heart of the monastery. It is reminiscent of Cistercian architecture, even if its capitals and consoles are sculpted. These fabulous sculptures remind us of the imaginary world of the medieval period with its monsters, fantastic animals and tarasques (an animal of Provencal folklore). Thus, the monks were confronted with evil even inside the monastery. From the blind arcades, the old cistern that was used to collect rainwater from the roofs can be discovered.

In the 13th century, the Hundred Years War raged, and insecurity reigned in Provence. The Pons de l’Orme tower was built and ramparts were erected to protect the abbey from the Free Companies that were multiplying exactions and looting. From the top of the Tower, you can enjoy a view that extends from Arles to the Alpilles via Tarascon and the plain of La Crau.

In the 17th century, the arrival of the Maurists, who advocated a more pious monastic life, led to the construction of the monastery Saint-Maur. It was formerly ordered on five levels and was decorated in all simplicity, as the aim of classical architecture was to combine monumentality and functionality.

During the Revolution, the monastery was put up for sale as a national asset. The buyers had the roof and its framework removed and the monument was severely damaged. The monastery was used as a stone quarry before it was classified as a historical monument in 1921.

In 1945, the State became the owner of this abbey, which had been classified as a Historical Monument since 1840. Today, this exceptional place is part of the UNESCO World Heritage.

From 1888 to 1889, the Montmajour Abbey inspired Vincent Van Gogh for many of his drawings. These include Sunset at Montmajour, one of his canvases that shows the beauty of the landscapes that can be admired from the abbey. Today, it hosts temporary exhibitions and participates in the Rencontres de la photographie (Encounters with photography) of Arles, a photography festival during which many artists are honored.

Prepare your visit

The Montmajour Abbey is open all year round:

  • April to September: open 7 days a week
  • October to March: closed on Monday
  • Closed on January 1, May 1, November 1 and 11, and December 25.

Schedules change with the seasons:

  • June to September: 10:00 m. to 6:30 p.m.
  • October to May: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

You can discover the abbey freely, with a visit document available at the reception desk in French, English, German, Italian, Spanish and Dutch. If you want a guide to reveal the mysteries and secrets of these places full of history, the various options are available to you:

  • In low season, guided visits are organized every Sunday.
  • Discover the monument during a guided tour (advance booking required for groups).
  • Take advantage of the experience of a tour guide outside the monument who can tell you about the abbey in French, English, German, Spanish or Italian. In this case, the reservation must be made one day in advance with the tourist office of Arles.

The Montmajour Abbey is partially accessible to people with reduced mobility and has a PRM access.

Visiting time: allow at least 1 hour to visit the site.



From Lyon: take the A7 Highway to Avignon, then take the N570 national road to reach Arles and take the D17 secondary road to Fontvieille.

From Marseille: take the A7 Highway to Salon-de-Provence, then take the A54 Highway and the N113 national road to Arles, then follow the D17 secondary road towards Fontvieille.

From Montpellier: take the A9 Highway, exit n°26, follow the N313 and then the N572 national roads to Arles, then take the D17 secondary road towards Fontvieille.

Selection of monuments in Bouches-du-Rhône :