Mine shakes off dust to embrace new life
The colliery at Bois du Cazier is more than a former coal mining site; it was the scene of one of the most tragic events in Belgian industrial history, when several hundred miners lost their lives.
“The project has been highly symbolic for the region: a chance to learn about the past and grow towards the future.”
Jean-Louis Delaet, Managing Director, Le Bois du Cazier
To remember those who perished and also to mark the industrial revolution in the area, the Walloon Region undertook restoration and development works at the colliery to offer locals and tourists (an estimated 30 000 per year) a chance to visit the site, take part in cultural activities, and learn about the industrial past and also contemporary issues.
A tragedy not forgotten
Phase I (1994 to 1999) of the project involved restoring listed buildings, constructing the Industry Museum and developing features such as the Place of Remembrance in honour of the 262 who died on that fateful day of 8 August 1956 when miners from 12 nationalities were the victims of a fire that rapidly spread through the mine.
Unique industrial tourist attraction
The second phase (2000 to 2006) was focused primarily on making the site more attractive for tourists. This included fitting out the shop and restaurant, setting up ‘live’ workshops (ironworks), installing lighting and connecting up the different areas of the site. The surrounding natural wooded areas (some 55 acres in total) underwent major redevelopments which were designed to create places where visitors could go for walks and enjoy the greener side of this industrial landmark. By making the site clean and safe for visitors and staff, people have a unique opportunity to enjoy features such as conical slagheaps, an aerial footbridge made of wood and metal, and a landscape observatory at an altitude of nearly 250 metres, offering a spectacular 360° panorama of the whole region.
Tools of the trade on display
One of the main features is the Industry Museum, which offers a tour looking at the main sectors of local industry: collieries, iron and steel, glass, metalwork, mechanical and electrical constructions, chemistry, printing and also social life. A mid-19th century sheet-metal rolling mill, steam engines, dynamos, presses and an electric tramway from 1904 are among the displays. Another key attraction is the Glass Museum, which houses collections of modern and old works.
Actor in contemporary issues
The Bois du Cazier is also a Site of Conscience, part of a coalition of historic sites dedicated to remembering past struggles for justice and addressing their contemporary legacies. It provides a suitable historical framework for initiating contemporary discussions about safety in the workplace as well as past and present immigration. Guided tours, activities and debates give visitors the opportunity to examine immigration issues and think about concrete actions that they can carry out in relation to this theme.