Coal-Mines occupy an important place in Belgian history. They tell stories of people, of hard-working hands and coal-dusted faces; they tell stories of Wallonia, of its hills and rich history. They speak about architecture from the early periods of the industrial era in Europe. They share a piece of history in a very preserved and true way. Situated in the southern part of Belgium and being among the best-preserved 19th- and 20th-century coal-mining sites of the country, these mines belong to the UNESCO since 2012. During the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, mining and the heavy metals industry that relied on coal, played a crucial role in the Belgian economy. Most of the mining and related industry and operations took place in the sillon industriel ("industrial valley", in French), a portion of land running across the southern part country where many of the largest cities in Wallonia are located. The mining sector in Belgium declined during the 20th century during the de-industrialization period and today main of the mines are no longer operational, but open to visitors as museums.
If you want to visit one of the mines in Wallonia that are open to the public, you may choose among the following ones: Grand-Hornu, Bois-du-Luc, Bois du Cazier and Blegny. These places all offer underground tours and have a very informative centers with experienced guides that will explain about the many stories and details of the mines. There are many objects that are in display as well, as these kind of history, even if rather recent, becomes more and more difficult to understand and be put into pictures, especially for the new generations: most of the objects, priorities and routines the miners and the people involved in the mining business had, are totally estranged from people from our time and age. The visuals will therefore help in picturing the hard realities many people dealt with for a very significant amount of time.
Being the mining industry part of what it is normally defined as recent history, and being it one of the main factors behind the population settling in these areas (that were mostly not as heavily populated as they were during the coal-industry boom), there are many people that have some kind of experience in relation to this history. So make sure to venture the streets and ask around: grandparent's stories, grandchildren's memories, legends and facts.... not only will they be fascinating but also very eyes-opening.
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