The eagerly anticipated news arrived in July. Grand-Hornu, Bois-du-Luc, Bois du Cazier and Blegny-Mine, Wallonia’s four major mining sites, were designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites at the committee’s 36th session held in St. Petersburg. This decision will boost the region’s international visibility and may have advantageous economic consequences as well.
Nine hundred properties, located in over 150 countries, currently hold this honor. Along with the hydraulic boat-lifts of the Canal du Centre, the WalloniaBelfries, Notre-Dame Cathedral in Tournai and the Neolithic Flint Mines of Spiennes, Wallonia’s collieries have joined such prestigious edifices as the Palace of Versailles, the Pyramids of Giza and even the Taj Mahal.
It is an opportune reminder of Wallonia’s place in the history of industrial technology and highlights the richness of a heritage that was built on a diverse combination of cultures and origins. Other examples of such treasures include the cultural masterpieces recognized as humanity’s oral and intangible heritage, such as Falconry, the Carnival of Binche and the Processional Giants and Dragons.
Recognition of History
The four sites form a complementary set, thus justifying their joint designation, in due recognition of the history, diversity and richness of Wallonia’s mining heritage.
The four sites together also form a microcosm of the Industrial Revolution, as all the various phases of technological and social development are represented there. While the Blegny and Bois du Cazier sites represent “labor,” the Grand-Hornu and Bois-du-Luc sites are a symbol of “social” developments, as their architecture illustrates power relations and social structure with the establishment of “workers’ villages,” under the aegis of paternalism.
This joint recognition will undoubtedly lead to the development and enhancement of the existing relationships between the four Walloniasites. In the short term, they will also be able to form partnerships with other industrial heritage sites that are already featured on the List, such as the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape in Wales.
This designation is also, perhaps most importantly, an excellent opportunity to create a completely new dynamic around the preservation of these properties, recognized for their universal value, and the promotion of culture and tourism.
While the recognition is not synonymous with grants, it does increase international visibility and could have an advantageous economic impact. However, this new dynamic may also raise long-term challenges, including the preservation and restoration of the properties, the promotion of culture and tourism, citizen participation, international cooperation and even scientific research.
The dynamic created by the UNESCO designation will thus be an asset to the entire region and will be a selling point that Wallonia can certainly use to its advantage.
Complete newsletter: WBI 117