Belgium’s Limburg province is a treasure trove of coal mining history. From the late 19th century until the mid-20th century, coal mining was the backbone of the region’s economy, providing jobs and shaping the landscape. Today, visitors can explore the rich heritage of coal mining in Belgian Limburg through a variety of attractions and experiences. In this article, we will guide you through the best ways to discover the coal mining heritage of Belgian Limburg.
History of Coal Mining in Belgian Limburg
Coal mining in Belgian Limburg started in the late 19th century and continued until the mid-20th century. The mining industry played a crucial role in the region’s economy, providing jobs and shaping the landscape. At its peak, the Limburg coalfields employed more than 60,000 people. However, with the decline of the coal industry in the 1960s and 1970s, many mines were closed down. Today, the region has transformed into a hub for innovation and sustainability, but the coal mining heritage still remains.
As the demand for coal increased, the industry required a large and steady workforce, which led to the immigration of workers from other parts of Europe. Immigrants from Italy, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, and other countries found a new life in Limburg. In order to support the influx of immigrant workers, the coal mining companies built new residential areas around the coal mining sites. In Dutch or Flemish, we call them “Cités.” Decades later, these neighborhoods expanded together with the coal mining industry and formed the basis of entire new communities and cities.
Nowadays, these former coal mining cities are multicultural hotspots, where some even have formed their own dialect of Dutch mixed with several foreign influences. In these neighborhoods, you’ll find both churches and mosques, as well as cozy markets, barbershops, Turkish bakeries, Greek restaurants, and the best fruit and vegetable stores around. The mixture of cultural influences is what makes these neighborhoods stand out.
Former Coal Mining Sites in Limburg
Belgian Limburg is home to several formal mining sites that are open to visitors. These sites offer a glimpse into the daily life of the former miners and their families. Visitors can explore the winding towers, the pithead baths, and the engine rooms. Some of the most popular mining sites to visit include the Waterschei Mine in Genk and the Zolder Mine in Heusden-Zolder.
Beringen’s former coal mine is one of the best-preserved coal mining sites in Limburg, and possibly even Europe. Although the site fell into decay for a brief period following the closure of the coal mines, it is now being restored and converted into a thriving social and cultural hub for the area. While some renovations are still ongoing, much of the site has already been transformed into a lively social and cultural hotspot.
At B-mine, sports and recreation play an important role. Visitors can enjoy not only a regular indoor swimming pool but also a diving center located in one of the old buildings where they can dive among tropical fish. Additionally, the site features an impressive indoor climbing center.
The former spoil tips behind the coal mine have been converted into outdoor activity areas. The smallest spoil tip has an “adventure mountain” for children, as well as mountain biking and hiking trails that lead to a viewing platform. The second and tallest spoil tip also features hiking trails and a viewing platform at the top. On clear days, visitors can spot other coal mines on the horizon.
Although some renovations are still ongoing, this former coal mining site is a must-visit during your stay in Limburg.
- Location: Koolmijnlaan 203,3582 Beringen
- Website: https://be-mine.be/en/
C-mine Genk Winterslag
The former coal mine in Winterslag, Genk, has been transformed into a cultural center called “C-Mine”.Here, visitors can explore the history of the coal mining industry and its impact on the region through exhibitions, workshops, and events that focus on the industrial heritage of Belgian Limburg.
One of the highlights of C-Mine is the interactive C-Mine Expedition tour, which takes visitors underground and to the top of the highest pit tower in Belgium.
Don’t miss out on a visit to C-Mine during your stay in Limburg. The two head frames are beautifully lit up in the evening, creating a stunning atmosphere. Check out the websites for more information and stay up-to-date with the latest events and exhibitions.
- Location: C-Mine 10, 3600 Genk
- Website: https://www.c-mine.be/en
Thor Park Genk Waterschei
The former coal mining site of Waterschei, located on the other side of Genk, is a well-preserved and renovated historical site. Several old mining buildings, including the machine rooms, pit frame, and main buildings, have been conserved.
The mining museum “Mijndepot” is housed in the main building and former machine rooms. Guided tours are available every day of the week, except on Mondays, at 1:30 pm and 3:30 pm. However, since the organization doesn’t have an English website, these guided tours are likely to be in Dutch only.
Waterschei’s coal mining site is now known as Thor Park, which features a technology campus and business park. It’s also one of the entry gates to the National Park Hoge Kempen, offering several walking or bicycle routes of various lengths.
Compared to other mining sites, the spoil tips of this mine are located a bit further. In between the former coal mining buildings and spoil tips of the Coal Mine of Waterschei, you’ll find the soccer stadium of KRC Genk, which is no coincidence since the soccer team originates from the coal mining history of Genk. This is a great destination to include in your Limburg trip, where you can enjoy a unique hike that combines cultural heritage and nature.
The former coal mine of Heusden-Zolder was the last one in the BeNeLux to close down. Some buildings, including one of the head frames and the iconic chimney have been preserved and renovated.
In one of the factory halls you’ll find “ZLDR Air Factory”, where you can emerge yourself in the coal mining history of the region. Access is free!
Every second and forth Wednesday of the month, there’s a multi-cultural market on the central square of the mining site.
Maasmechelen – Eijsden:
The former coal-mining site of Maasmechelen has nearly completely disappeared, aside from it’s 2 iconic pit frames and the spoil tips. Instead the area has been given back completely to nature. The area is now part of the National Park Hoge Kempen and features the “most beautiful landscape in Flanders”, often nicknamed the “Scandinavia of Belgium”.
This place is an absolute must-visit if you love hiking, but you won’t learn a thing here about the Coal Mining Heritage in Limburg.
The former coal mining site of Houthalen has almost completely vanished, aside from the 2 head frames and the main building. For foreign tourists, this site holds no interest at all. It’s only worth a quick stop to eat your burger in case the parking of the fast-food restaurants nearby are too crowded.
In conclusion, Belgian Limburg’s coal mining industry played a significant role in the region’s economy, providing jobs and shaping the landscape. Today, the region offers visitors an opportunity to explore its rich heritage through a variety of attractions and experiences. The former coal mining cities have become multicultural hotspots, and the mining sites that are open to visitors offer a glimpse into the daily life of former miners and their families. B-Mine in Beringen, C-Mine in Genk Winterslag, and Thor Park in Genk Waterschei are some of the best-preserved coal mining sites in Limburg, offering a range of activities and events to visitors. Despite the decline of the coal industry, Belgian Limburg’s coal mining heritage remains an important part of the region’s history and culture, attracting visitors from all over the world.