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Coal heritage in Belgium: Bois du Cazier and Bois-du-Luc

4 minutes to read
History and emotion in an industrial landscape, immersed in a green setting

Looking for a visit in Wallonia that is emotional, cultural and historical? I recommend Le Bois du Cazier and Le Bois-du-Luc, former coalmining sites dedicated to the memory of miners, and the souvenir of disastrous working conditions in the mines, in the last century. In Wallonia, there are four major mining sites listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites since July 2012: Grand-Hornu, Bois-du-Luc, Bois du Cazier and Blegny-Mine. These places are interesting from a historical, social, technological and architectural point of view. Coal mining represents a place of cultural confluence that has had a considerable influence in Europe and the world. They are also and above all sites of memory, paying tribute to labour immigration and to the victims from the Italian, Moroccan, Spanish, Polish, Greek or Turkish labour force, nicknamed the "black faces".

Photo « Vers le jour. Créations carbonifères » (©Michel Bocart)
Photo « Vers le jour. Créations carbonifères » (©Michel Bocart)

In this story, I will introduce you first to the Bois du Cazier site, located in Marcinelle, where a major fire killed 262 miners on August 8, 1956. And the mining site of Bois-du-Luc, also known as "Museum of Mining and Sustainable Development", located in Houdeng-Aimeries, and which is a remarkably well preserved testimony of social engineering.

Bois du Cazier

The site of Bois du Cazier is located in Marcinelle in the region of Charleroi. In addition to being a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2012, the Bois du Cazier has been inscribed on the European Heritage Label since 2017. It is an unmissable and very moving cultural place, which plunges us back into the disaster of August 8, 1956, that took away the lives of 262 people. It shows us the harsh working and living conditions of the miners. As soon as you pass through the entrance gate of this former coalmining plant, you can feel the soul of miners. It is a place full of emotions, history and memory. After seeing this, you will never forget the hell that these people (generation of our grandfathers) had to endure, the fear of going down into the mine, and all the working conditions.

Within the site, there are two museums. In the "Museum of Industry", you can relive the industrial epic from the end of the 18th century to the end of the 19th century, the great era of the Black Country. Doing so, you will observe the engines of former times such as steam engines, trams, etc, as well as discover the different industrial sectors such as steel and glass. The second museum is the "Glass Museum", where you will learn about glass, in all its forms. In the past, Wallonia was indeed renowned for its glass factories. You can also admire a demonstration of the molten material between fire and metal by a blacksmith.

To preserve the memory of the 262 victims of the Bois de Cazier mining disaster, the site houses "L'espace 8 août 1956", a center for a better interpretation of the tragedy caused by insecurity at work and migration. There is also the memorial, which is a place to pay tribute to the victims. The photos, videos, soundtracks, testimonies are touching and powerful.

On the natural side, you can stroll through the site's three slag heaps, which bear witness to coal mining in the past, and let you admire - from their summit - the exceptional view. The slag heaps are converted into walking trails and live workshops.

Le Bois du Cazier
Le Bois du Cazier
Marcinelle, Charleroi, Belgium

Bois-du-Luc

Bois-du-Luc is located in Houdeng-Aimeries, in the municipality of La Louvière. It is an ecomuseum and a mining village, unique in Europe, which has been totally preserved, from its industrial buildings to the hospice, the kiosk, the still-inhabited workers' houses, and the church. It is also one of the oldest coal mines in Belgium, with an exceptional longevity (1685-1973).

Photo "Cité" © CGT-A.Siquet
Photo "Cité" © CGT-A.Siquet

The authenticity of this preserved mining village includes a city and a set of industrial, social, cultural, festive and religious buildings. An audio-guided tour explains the living conditions of our ancestors. It explains the economic and political climate that prevailed at the time and enables us to better understand the current economic situation in Wallonia.

Bois-du-Luc
Bois-du-Luc
Rue Saint-Patrice 2b, 7110 Houdeng-Aimeries, Belgique
To never forget

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The author

Roxane Casula

Roxane Casula

I'm Roxy, a nature, art, traveling, music and party lover from Belgium. i am playful to discover all the beauties and different cultures of our little blue earth.

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