Bois du Luc (Wallonia - Belgium)

The 2nd of the 4 Coal Mining Sites under UNESCO, is the Bois Du Luc (read about the 1st site Grand Hornu). This is quite different from the concept of Grand Hornu. While that was by the very forward thinking man LeGrand who gave a lot of facilities and a 'cathedral' of mining sites with its unique architecture, this was more of a typical coal mine known for its social life! No, it isn't the same as the social life that we know of today's digital era. Its the society of coal miners that we are talking about.
Its a bit scary to begin with..... The door through which you enter the site looks like a guillotine! On either side of it are high watch towers like a castle. Overall, it looked more like a prison, than a coal mining site. A shocking difference from Grand Hornu!!! This is what pure capitalism looks like, especially when it almost touches being dictatorship!!!
This was built in 1685 and was active till 1935. The way its been presented now, reminded me of Churchill War Rooms in London where life sized mannequins are kept to recreate how it would have been when it was functional! Unlike Grand Hornu, which was a one man army, in this case, this was owned by a group of 8 share holders.

The first room to see was the room of the director's room. First thing, this has the oldest form of CCTV! Well, almost... A periscope styled architecture with an angled mirror atop the ceiling outside the door, helps the manager to see who is there, from his seat!!!! The room also has a rich wall tiled with marbles.... errrr..... no, fake marbles; the walls have been painted to look like marble! It was a well paying job in that era, to paint walls with marble finish, for the skilled house decorators!!!

The whole village is set up around the mines! Unlike Grand Hornu here the houses of the workers isn't very luxurious and lacked a lot including private toilets! It was only in a later era with the influence of church, that private bathrooms and separate bedrooms for children etc. were built. The houses were originally much smaller which got extended to first floor, thanks to the interference of the church to keep boys & girls separate, parents separate etc. There is still 1 house preserved in the original style for the visitors to have a look.

The Director's house was located at the end of the streets positioned higher than the rest of the houses, so that he literally could watch over the society! The society had girls school, boys school, gym pubs, theater, communal hall, church, hospital, grocery shop etc within itself all at a lower price! At the end of the village that leads to Mons city was the church. Even people who tried to get out of the village on Sundays were questioned of their motives, by the Church! To a major extent this was almost dictatorship (provide all facilities, but interfere in everything - doesn't that almost sounds like a teenager's father???), and is aptly called Industrial Paternalism. You know, you couldn't bit*h about the management sitting & drinking in this bar where drinks are cheap, coz your manager is watching..... Get the situation??? 
The workers were from different countries incl Belgian, Italian, Turkish, Greek, Spanish, Polish etc. With more & more influence of worker rights happening around the world, once a major strike happened here after which the management took some drastic decisions. It was then the watch towers and guillotine doors were installed. The workers were told that if they strike again, the management would call the police to shoot from the tower! But then, it was one big lie to scare the workers. The watch tower is actually empty inside. Though there are windows up there, there is no way to reach them or stand there! There is no stairs or platforms!!!
Today a visit to Pit Saint Immanuel can be done, however it isn't possible to go down. An overview with life sized mannequins given an idea of how the everyday life of a mining worker was including some original photographs of the miners both at work and in leisure. Before entering the pit, every worker was given a safety lamp in exchange of his badge. This not only showed the methane content in the pit but in case of accident, this was their way to finding who were trapped in there, by seeing whose badges were still unclaimed.
The mined coal was then brought up and sent to washing and sorting shed. The smaller coal were used for household purposes and larger ones were used for industrial purposes. Sorting was done by hand and mostly women were employed for this. For every 100kg of extraction only about 60kg was coal. The rest (rocks & waste was discarded in the backyard forming slagheap which in course of time grew as small hills!!!

Earlier horse drawn carriages were used to pull coal wagons. Yes, horses were down there in the pit. Yes, its an era when human rights didn't have much importance, so animal rights didn't matter! However, later railways came into use. Architecture in certain places are interesting, like at the de-watering site. The 3 arches with Greeco-Roman pillars won awards at an Art Exposition! And yeah, that's the super lively guy Jeff who explained me all about the site!

To Stay:
Hotels and B&Bs at all price points are available in Mons Town Centre.
Here’s my review of Hotel Dream where I stayed.

To Get There:
On Google Maps: Bois du Luc
To reach Mons: Refer to my earlier post
To Bois du Luc: From Mons: 23 km; From La Louviere: 2.6 km
Bus no:82 goes directly but its frequency is only once in 2 hrs with 1 hr travel time.
Train can be train to La Louviere SNCB and then a bus can be taken to Bois du Luc

Entry Ticket & Timings:
€8; Mon-Fri 10:00AM to 5:00PM (open in weekends too from May to Oct)
€14 for combined ticket with Grand Hornu.
Inclusive in Mons Card
Ticket can be bought at the entrance of the site 
Free guided tour on first Sunday of every month 15:00 from May-Oct



P.S: I was invited by Visit Mons and Wallonia Tourism to experience the city for review purposes, however the opinions are my own and this post does not to advertise the product/service.

Bhushavali N

An ardent traveler by passion. I am a wanderlust.. Read more about me here.

14 comments:

  1. Can't keep track will all the UNESCO sites in the world haha! Would love to add this one to the list a lot. Quite a little historic place to be. If we pass by Belgium on our road trip this summer will consider to pass by!

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  2. Wow interesting that this UNESCO heritage site is made up of 4 sites and this is just the second one of your visit. It sounds so interesting to learn and see more about how life was lived here in history. Intriguing that the Director’s House could overlook the whole society. This sounds like quite the interesting place to visit.

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  3. What a place. Never thought this coikd be a heritage site. Such a unique place to visit. Some sad stories but overall a great place when it would ha e been at its perk. Very well presented and the photos are great as well. Thanks for sharing

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  4. I read your last post on Grand Hornu and it definitely sounds like you had a better time here! So interesting that the watch tower is just for show these days and you can’t even get up there. I love reading about these lesser known places, especially ones that are UNESCO site!

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  5. Such a cool place! It's so interesting to know about the history of the place. I love visiting UNESCO site so will definitely put this place on the list.

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  6. I loved reading your unique posts on heritage sites. I never thought of visiting a coal mine during my travels as it look very industrial kind of thing. I admire your guts to go in and check all those tough things. The story of workers, police and all stuff in this coal mine reminds me of old Bollywood movie - 'Kala Pathar' starring Amitabh Bachchan. Every coal mine has some story. Though that entrance door is guillotine but its turquoise blue color looks photogenic.

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  7. This is a really cool place. I love visiting UNESCO sites as well. We visited one in Tasmania recently but it was basically a coal mine that the worst of the worst offenders were sent to from the jail so it was a lot more grim. Its interesting how they threatened the workers from the watch tower with no intention of actually following through. It obviously worked!

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  8. In Europe a lot of such mines have been converted into tourist places and some of those are also UNESCO WH sites. Thats a unique way of promoting tourism compared to India. Mines are always a place least known to common people.

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  9. I have been to Belgium several times but I have never seen a mine coal. Is definitely an experience to add in my next trip there. Is it suitable also for kids?

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  10. I believe that you developed a fascination with rustic places after visiting the first ones. From the pictures it looks like a setting from those steampunk novels and people in leather trenchcoats are walking on the streets. It is a good thing that places like Bois Du Luc has been declared a world heritage sites. Conservation of such places is really important.

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  11. The contrast between this place and the Grand Hornu site you wrote about last week is amazin. It's incredible how litte importance human life had back in those times, and how much we have progressed. Those UNESCO mines are more interesting than they look at first glance!

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  12. you continue sharing some really interesting, unknown spots in Belgium. And that one is the place where I would go! Engineer on your always goes to see older engineering:)

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  13. Another interesting post on less-visited places in Belgium. You have included very detailed observations of the site. I see the little one is enjoying himself on the sunny grass patch. These experiences will go a long way in enriching and shaping his personalty.

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  14. Its amazing to see the rooms and factory so well preserved keeping alive the atmosphere of the mining days. I didnt have time to visit this place while in Belgium but I will keep it mind for the future :)

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