The Coalface Where the Miner’s Lamp Still Burns
The coalfields of Wallonia were once amongst the most productive in western Europe, but in the 1970s one mine after another was forced to close as the black stuff became uneconomical to extract. The Blegny Mine, near Liège, was one of the last to cease production (in 1980), but within a few months the authorities decided to preserve it so that future generations could appreciate the physically punishing work the miners had to endure, and the huge contribution they made to Belgium’s prosperity.
Thirty years on, you’d hardly know that coal is no longer produced here. Blegny is the only mine in continental Europe where you can descend to the underground galleries and literally touch the coalface at a depth of 30 and 60 metres. Some of the mining drills still work, and you’re given a startling demonstration of the noise, the cramped conditions and the darkness in which the men – and their pit ponies, who lived and died underground – had to work.
Back above ground, some of the surface buildings have been preserved too, including the buildings where the coal was washed and sorted, the gallery where the miners clocked on every morning and collected their electric lamps, and the shower room where they washed off the dust and grime and returned to normality again.
For younger visitors, Blegny has an animal park, a mini golf course, and a road-train that runs through the grounds. And for the older ones, there’s a museum covering eight centuries of Wallonian mining, where English-speaking guides are on hand, and audioguides are available for those who want to go at their own pace. The Blegny mine is a pearl of Wallonia’s industrial heritage, and will fascinate anyone who cares about preserving the past.