WALLONIA - Part 1: things to see

Arlon, Ardennes, Binche, Charleroi, Dinant
map of Wallonia

Arlon

Arlon is the capital of the province of Luxembourg, and along with Tongeren and Doornik (Tournai), it is the oldest city in Belgium, since even before the Roman conquest, there was a Celtic settlement! The Roman town Orolaunum was located on the crossroads to Reims, Trier and Cologne.

In 1839, Luxembourg was split between Belgium and the German Confederation, and Arlon, together with the French-speaking west of Luxembourg, was allocated to Belgium, even though in Arlon the same language was spoken as in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg !

The city was completely Frenchized, but in the surrounding villages Luxembourgish is still spoken. The St Donatus church dates from the 17th century.

Arlon : Grand Place Arlon : St Donatus church

Ardennes

The Ardennes are a very forested in an area, that includes the province of Luxemburg in eastern Belgium, next to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, and a part of France. The highest hills in Belgium are Botrange (the High Fens) with 694 meters, and the Baraque Fraiture in the province of Luxembourg with 652 meters.

The Ardennes were the base of the great industrial period of Wallonia, which was the second largest industry in the world, between the 18th and the 20th century !

During the 18th century, the first blast furnaces in the four Walloon provinces used charcoal, that came from the vast forests. The most important part of the Walloon steel industry, that later used coal, was built around the coal mines of Liege, Charleroi, La Louviere, Borinage and Tubize in Walloon Brabant.

Ardennes 1 Ardennes 2

Binche

Binche is best known for its ancient carnival with the Gilles, dressed in their traditional costume. This is a linen suit with colorful lions and crowns, which is filled with straw. They also wear wooden shoes, a white collar and cap, and a belt with bells, to dispel evil spirits. Sometimes they wear a large hat with ostrich plumes, and a face mask. A Gille can only move to the tune of music, and they carry a basket of oranges, which are thrown into the crowd.

Binche also has the best preserved city wall in Belgium, which was built in the 13th century, and the belfry, dating from the 14th to 16th centuries.

Binche : Gilles 1 Binche : Gilles 2
   
Binche : Gilles 3 Binche : city wall

Charleroi

Charleroi is located on the river Sambre, and is connected to Brussels through a channel. The coal mines, which once constituted its great wealth, were closed around 1990. The main industries today are the metal and glass industry, but the whole area has become a faded glory, with the resultant sky-high unemployment and heavy crime. Everywhere one can see remnants of the large mines, which is why Charleroi is also known as "Le Pays Noir" (Black Country).

In 1666 the village of Charnoy was extended by the Spaniards to a town called Charleroi. Soon however it came under French rule, and during World War I it was almost completely destroyed. The city was gradually expanded with fourteen suburbs, and it became the largest city in Wallonia. Almost 500,000 people live in metropolitan Charleroi.

The Metro Leger de Charleroi is/was (...) a pre-metro system, locally known as "un grand travail inutile" (a large but totally useless work), because even though much of the system was built, it was never used... Its concept was far too large, and through lack of money, the construction was stopped. Now there are ghost stations, both above ground and underground.

This pre-metro was only constructed to provide orders to the local Walloon industry (ACEC), rather than to solve a transport problem. Together with the ship lift of Strépy-Thieu on the canal, it is only one of the many examples of the political excess and huge squandering, caused by the Belgian "Waffle Iron Politics" ! (note : For every public dime spent in Flanders, another dime has to be spent in Wallonia, whether that be useful or not)...

Charleroi : city hall Charleroi : metro leger 1
   
Charleroi : metro leger 2 Charleroi : metro leger 3
   
Charleroi : metro leger 4 Charleroi : metro leger 5

Dinant

For many years, Dinant was one of the major cities of the Principality of Liège. The city was known for its copper workers, which was one of the main occupations of the time. Through its wealth and its strategic location on the river Meuse, which was the trade route from Cologne to Paris, it fell prey to several powers.

The rock Bayard is a picturesque point of rock, that stands independent of the cliff. The abbey of Leffe was founded in 1152 by the Norbertines of Floreffe. In 1240, they bought the brewery Saint-Medard, and brewed their famous Leffe beer until 1809. In 1952, the production was resumed, but in 1977 it was taken over by the Artois brewery. In 1990, the beer was transferred to Interbrew, which later became InBev and Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Dinant : rock Bayard 1 Dinant : rock Bayard 2
** Continue reading with a look at Wallonia Part 2 **
Durbuy, Liege, Namur, Spa and Waterloo
** or go back to Overview **