Charleroi

Former stronghold of industry in Belgium, the city and region of Charleroi keep the indelible traces of this prestigious past.
What remains of this arsenal of factories, workshops, blast furnaces and coal mines that made the country's wealth until the interwar period ?
Scattered ruins, large buildings having lost their first vocation, a massacred environment and a glory that is only a vague memory.

Charleroi was the seat of the ACECs1. Everything related to electricity or electronics was stamped ACECs. From televisions to NMBS/SNCB trains, aerospace and lighting. Without forgetting the nuclear : the ACECs took a large part in the design of BR-1, BR-2 and BR-32, the first nuclear reactors of Belgium, between 1954 and 1962. During the sixties, the caroloregian company rivaled in all areas and without problem with the Dutch giant, Philips.
Unfortunately, from the 70's, problems accumulated and finally, the venerable company founded in 1886 will be cut up between Alcatel, Alstom and the Walloon region. We are then in 1989.

ACEC

ACECs logo

Why this evocation of the ACECs ? Because it alone illustrates the infernal fall of the capital of the "Pays Noir".
Charleroi (and Wallonia in general) has miss the economic reconversion of the sixties and sink gradually, with the fatal procession of restructuring, resumption-closures and relocations. Unemployment is skyrocketing, the population is dangerously pauperizing and the only thing that seems to withstand the winds and tides is the Socialist Party.
From the pre-war industrial jewel, the city will become the bastion of crime, corruption and the Van Cauwenberghe system3. The city inherits the unflattering nickname of 'Chicago-on-Sambre'.
I will not go back too much on this heresy that is the "light" subway of Charleroi4...

Coat of arms of Charleroi

Coat of arms of Charleroi

Once there, the feeling of abandonment immediately invades me.
Another thing that struck me was the reception of the local population. From the neighbor of foundry Giot to kids playing in the street, no one has hesitated to tell me and to show me their daily life.
Obviously, few "officials" are interested in these people... The priorities are elsewhere. But where ? No idea...

To radically change the scenery and get rid of my lungs a little, detour by Beaumont.
Small tourist town perched on its rocky piton, it dominates the beautiful valley of the Hantes. A complete change of scenery only thirty kilometers from Charleroi.

Charleroi

On the way to Charleroi ! Stop on a highway area with breathtaking views of the boat lift Strépy-Thieu...

Charleroi

... and panorama on the border between the Center and the Borinage.

Charleroi

 

Charleroi

Corner of Hainaut still green between two large ex-industrial basins.

Charleroi

The spoil tips are the main relief of the region.

Charleroi

Who says Charleroi says football. The stadium of the local Sporting stuck in a residential area.

Charleroi

Renovated from top to bottom for Euro 2000, ten years later (and a few tens of millions by the way...), it is at the heart of a legal battle between the city and the residents.

Charleroi

The Mambourg stadium being there well before the first houses, the people settling here knew what to hold.

Charleroi

A bit like settling near an airport and then complaining about noise.

Charleroi

This stadium is still a beautiful technical feat. Too bad it will be soon demolished.

Charleroi

 

Charleroi

 

Charleroi

Another club, other stadium, other environment. Welcome to the Neuville, Olympic's lair.

Charleroi

Evolving at a level below that of Sporting, the “Dogues” nevertheless maintain a visceral hatred towards the big brother of Sporting.

Charleroi

Here, no grandiose constructions, we are satisfied with an old arena built in the 1930's.

Charleroi

The Olympic Club should have emigrated to the Mambourg after Euro 2000 but his supporters did not look favorably this forced move to the home of the hereditary enemy.

Charleroi

The old club of the Neuville stadium will finally stay in its facilities certainly outdated but charming.

Charleroi

The Sambre, the first artery of Charleroi, passing close to the railway station.

Charleroi

Near the courthouse, in the city center.

Charleroi

The old urban core offers a certain urban anarchy, evil that suffers most Walloon cities.

Charleroi

 

Charleroi

Place Emile Buisset.

Charleroi

Charleroi-Sud station, recently refurbished. The station is totally isolated from the rest of the city by the Sambre.

Charleroi

Place Jean Monnet.

Charleroi

Near there, radical change of scenery. Rue de Marchienne, between a NMBS/SNCB railway line and the factories of the Arcelor-Mittal group.

Charleroi

Here, no houses, park or church. Only heavy industry (or its ruins) over square kilometers.

Charleroi

Sometimes we find a building on a human scale, among the steel monsters of the industrial basin.

Charleroi

The houses leaned against the bridge. The people who live here suffer enormously from pollution, in total indifference. Far off, the Giot Foundry.

Charleroi

The water tower of the FAFER, well known to urban explorers.

Charleroi

The former administrative offices of FAFER, rue de l'Alliance.

Charleroi

The doors definitively closed on a past gone.

Charleroi

On the other side of the Sambre, another known place, the old water tower of the Forges de la Providence. It shouldn't stay long standing.

Charleroi

The coking plant of Providence, at a standstill. When in operation, flames escaped, as well as plumes of black smoke.

Charleroi

The ancient water tower. In the back, ground in reconversion.

Charleroi

The part of the site of the forges still in activity, towards Charleroi. On the right, the subway viaduct.

Charleroi

A building eaten away by oblivion and pollution.

Charleroi

The glaucous access of the namesake subway station "Forges de la Providence".

Charleroi

The station (in dilapidated state) being built on a viaduct, it offers some interesting points of view.

Charleroi

Red light for the Providence.

Charleroi

All the beauty and freshness of the entrance to the subway station. There is no need to say, we feel alive in Charleroi !

Charleroi

Last look at the Providence.

Charleroi

The spoil tips are the last visible witnesses of the coal mining which made of this region the second richest in the world in the 19th century.

Charleroi

Things today are not exactly the same. Abandoned gas station, as a symbol of a region in full decay.

Charleroi

The high chimneys of the pellet plant at the Carsid site, along the N90.

Charleroi

A small marshalling yard, with at the bottom, the center of Charleroi.

Charleroi

The hyper-industrial landscape of Marchienne, where nature is struggling to resist.

Charleroi

Summit of a green heap. Given the nature of it, you should never walk on it unless it is explicitly allowed.

Charleroi

The beautiful boards of SPAQuE, which boasts of having cleaned the site of the Giot Foundry.

Charleroi

The beautiful facade of the foundry, overlooking the rue de Châtelet.

Charleroi

Houses in the immediate vicinity of the Fonderie Giot.

Charleroi

The Giot Foundry as a whole.

Charleroi

Ruined by decades of abandonment and vandalism, old walls are just waiting to collapse.

Charleroi

After the distressing show for everyone to see, I introduce you backstage. Again, it's not sad !

Charleroi

These images are taken from the garden of a neighbor of the Fonderie Giot. Thanks to him for opening the doors of his house.

Charleroi

As we can see, SPAQuE excels in the art of sanitation. And to say that this organization is financed by our taxes ! Disgusting.

Charleroi

Guided by the kids in the neighborhood, I venture to enter the Fonderie Giot.

Charleroi

This land is easily accessible, houses in the background are inhabited.

Charleroi

On the vacant lot, there are (between the waste and the dross) steel tubes. Probably polls measuring soil pollution.

Charleroi

The "Black Tower", rue de la Fonderie.

Charleroi

The fact that these walls are still standing is miraculous.

Charleroi

Inside the "Black Tower", with what was once an elevator.

Charleroi

 

Charleroi

 

Charleroi

Through a ripped wall. Intending to enter, the kids have strongly advised against me.

Charleroi

 

Charleroi

The abandoned houses of the rue de Châtelet.

Charleroi

An old light fixture of the 50's on a house at the foot of the "Black Tower".

Charleroi

Improvised playground in the rue de la Fonderie. Behind the wall, tons of garbage.

Charleroi

To cheer me up after the grayness of Charleroi, small jump to Beaumont. Here, we can breathe safely.

Charleroi

The city dominates the valley of the Hantes.

Charleroi

The Beaumont situation at the top of an escarpment will cause many sieges and battles.

Charleroi

Towards the Salamander Tower.

Charleroi

The gray mass of the Salamander Tower hides behind the trees.

Charleroi

Rue de la Poterne.

Charleroi

At the foot of the Salamander Tower. Built in the 11th century, it will be burned by the French in 1655 and the English in 1691.

Charleroi

 

Charleroi

The Salamander Tower and the Poterne, a remnant of the communal defensive wall.

Charleroi

Close up on the Poterne (16th century).

Charleroi

Below, the bucolic setting of the Saint-Julien l'Hospitalier chapel.

Charleroi

On the Grand'Place, the town hall (on the left) and the Prince's castle.

Charleroi

The church Saint-Servais, neoclassical style. It replaced in 1775 a large Gothic church ruined by the French in 1655.

Charleroi

Details on the Prince's Castle. Napoleon stayed there the day before his defeat at Waterloo.

Charleroi

In Montignies-Saint-Christophe, there is an interesting Gallo-Roman bridge-dam.

Charleroi

Built in the 5th century, it allowed to replace a ford, difficult to cross because of the flow of the Hantes, on the old Roman road Bavay-Trier.

Charleroi

In the vicinity of the bridge, there are some fortified farms worthy of interest, as well as walks through woods or fields.

Charleroi

The bridge has just been restored. The proximity of a car park spoils the landscape somewhat.

Charleroi

Direction home !

22

March 2009

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Notes

  1. ACEC (means Electrical Engineering Workshops in Charleroi), founded by Julien Dulait.
    In 1904, the small company is taken over by Baron Empain. Its development will be exponential until the 1960's. Baron Empain was notably the designer and owner of Métro de Paris, until 1949.
  2. Acronym of Belgian Reactor, the No. 3 will be the prototype of the current European nuclear power plants (REP). The ACECs will build the first French nuclear reactor (Chooz A, commissioned in 1967 and shut down in 1991) and will become the preferred supplier of the following plants.
  3. Jean-Claude Van Cauwenberghe (born in 1944), often nicknamed Van Cau, had been the uncontested and undisputed master (only in French) of Charleroi between 1982 and 2010. He will finally be swept away by the famous "Affaires de Charleroi" (only in French).
  4. Charleroi ghost subway, on Wikipedia.
    One of the best-of of Petit guide des Grands Travaux Inutiles (only in French), by Jean-Claude Defossé.

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