International valorization of the Wallonia heritage
One of the Wallonia Heritage Agency’s missions is to represent, promote and ensure the valorization of the Wallonia heritage on the international scale. The diffusion abroad of the Wallonia knowledge and know-how is also ensured by the Agency. This work is embodied through international cooperation projects and the management of properties listed on the World Heritage List.
Wallonia properties inscribed on the world heritage list
Wallonia has listed five cultural properties and one natural site on the World Heritage List. There are the four elevators of the Canal du Centre and their site (1998), seven belfries (Binche, Charleroi, Gembloux, Mons, Namur, Thuin and Tournai), which are part of the “Belfries of Belgium and France” (1999 and 2005), the Notre-Dame de Tournai Cathedral (2000), the Neolithic flint mines of Spiennes (2000) and the major mining sites of Wallonia (the Grand-Hornu, Bois-du-Luc, the Bois du Cazier and Blegny-Mine, 2012). To these can be added some parts of the Soignes forest, which are included in the recognition of the “Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe” (2017).
The four elevators of the Canal du Centre (La Louvière and Le Roeulx)
Designed to open up the province of Hainaut and its industries, the Canal du Centre, together with the structures associated with it, is the preserved testimony of an industrial landscape of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Faced with a double problem (the crossing of a large gradient over a short distance and a low flow), the designers of the time chose to build, on a portion of only 7 km, four hydraulic boat lifts. Of the eight elevators built in the early 20th century, only the four lifts of the Canal du Centre are still in their original state of operation, making it a unique series in the world.
The Wallonia Belfries
Symbols of the emergence of communal power in the Middle-Age, belfries dominate the heart of former Netherlands and northern France’s cities. These towers, isolated or contiguous to another public building, often used as watchtowers, housed the communal bells, charters and other archives and hosted the meetings of the aldermen, when they were not used as prison. To this multiplicity of functions is added the great variety of architectural styles. The Wallonia series includes the oldest belfry in Belgium, erected in Tournai at the end of the 12th century, but also a much more recent example, inaugurated in Charleroi in 1936. Between the latter two, 5 other belfries were built: the belfry of Binche, which is surmounting the town hall; the belfry of Mons, the only Belgian baroque belfry; the one of Thuin, conceived from the beginning to assume the functions of belfry and became the steeple of the collegiate church which was formerly contiguous to it; the belfry of Namur installed since the 18th century in a tower of the city walls; and the one of Gembloux, which became a belfry after the destruction of the church of which it was the steeple.
The Notre –Dame de Tournai Cathedral
The Cathedral of Tournai is an amazing example of juxtaposition of several building programs from different styles. It combines a large nave punctuated by very rich sculpted pieces, which is a unique example in the history of Romanesque architecture, and a Romanesque transept, also going toward the Gothic style. The latter, erected in the 12th century like the nave, is well recognizable by its lantern tower framed by four steeples. These Romanesque parts are completed by a fully Gothic choir, rebuilt in the 13th century. In addition to its great architectural value, the cathedral is also home to equally exceptional furniture.
Spiennes mines (Mons)
Spiennes Mines form one of the largest and oldest flint extraction sites in northwestern Europe. Exploited during a very long period, they testify to the evolution of the techniques of extraction during the Neolithic (circa Vth –IIIrd millennium BC). The most spectacular structures are formed of extraction wells measuring between 0.80 and 1.20 meters (31.5 in and 42.2 in), sometimes as deep as 16 meters (52.5 ft) for the deepest ones. The entire site is dotted with many of these wells attesting to the intensive level exploitation of flint. In addition to these wells are large workshops designed to build axes and standardized long blades.
Major mining sites of Wallonia
The four sites included in the World Heritage List inscription can be found on a 170 km long route that crosses Belgium from West to East. Although they are far from being the only collieries to have decorated the landscape, they retain relevant testimony of this industry during the 19th and 20th centuries. The Grand-Hornu site expresses an typical example of the utopian architecture of the first half of the 19th century through the industrial buildings attached to a working class housing project. The Carrés de Bois-du-Luc, more recent, is another proof of the integration of the place of life to the working place. It is also one of the first exploited sites, at the beginning of the 17th century. The Bois du Cazier, for its part, demonstrates the social realities linked to the exploitation of coal and recalls sad memories of the catastrophe of 1956, which cost 262 human lives. Finally, Blegny-Mine still has many mining galleries accessible to people, which are the best witnesses of the underground activities.