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    Topic review

    Industrial Heritage in Belgium

    Subjects: Archaeology
    View times: 364
    Contributors: Jiazhen Zhang , Jeremy Cenci , vincent becue , Sesil KOUTRA
    Submitted by:Jiazhen Zhang


    Industrial heritage reflects the development track of human production activities and witnessed the rise and fall of industrial civilization. As one of the earliest countries in the world to start the Industrial Revolution, Belgium has a rich industrial history. Over the past years, a set of industrial heritage renewal projects have emerged in Belgium in the process of urban regeneration. In this paper, we introduce the basic contents of the related terms of industrial heritage, examine the overall situation of protection and renewal in Belgium. The industrial heritage in Belgium shows its regional characteristics, each region has its representative industrial heritage types. In the Walloon region, it is the heavy industry. In Flanders, it is the textile industry. In Brussels, it is the service industry. The kinds of industrial heritages in Belgium are coordinate with each other. Industrial heritage tourism is developed, especially on eco-tourism, experience tourism. The industrial heritage in transportation and mining are the representative industrial heritages in Belgium. 

    1. Introduction

    The genesis of the notion of the cultural landscape is more likely laid on the multi-layered dynamic interrelations—both spatially and historically—of human intervention and natural processes to adjust its function to the changing community demands. Its understanding provides a way to bring the tangible and the intangible qualities of a shared environment and to enable its regeneration[1]. Industrialization generated significant changes in the urban and social landscape, including greater densities and the urbanization of the natural and rural environment; population moves and demand for reorganization of modern communities. However, over the past decades’ phenomena, such as the globalization, deindustrialization, the urbanization and the economic (re)conversion had profound effects on traditional industrial areas leading to a vast array of obsolete and former industrial facilities generated by them[2].

    During the last decades, several studies have analyzed and documented the remnants of the industrial society [3][4] and emphasized the necessity of considering post-industrial landscapes in the city planning and the industrial heritage as a resource and an integral part of collective identity, while its preservation as ‘vital’ and vector for the historical identity.

    At the beginning of the 21st century, it has been acknowledged that industrial heritage is understood and interpreted at the level of the landscape and of societies. That broader interpretation of the industrial heritage “focusses on the remains of the industry—sites, structures, and infrastructure, machinery and equipment, housing, settlements, landscapes, products, processes, embedded knowledge and skills, documents and records, as well as the use and treatment of this heritage in the present”. It should comprise “not only the remains of the Industrial Revolution, but also the traditional precursors from earlier centuries that reflect increased technical specialization, intensified productive capacity, and distribution and consumption beyond local markets, hallmarks of the rise of industrialization”[5].

    The Industrial Revolution represented one of the most significant evolution in the history of mankind[6], important technological advances being registered in that period. In fact, the emergence of the Industrial Revolution is dated dynamically for each country and it is an on-going process in the 20th century i.e., quantitatively approaching; United Kingdom (1750/60), France (1780), Belgium (1790), Germany (1795), United States (1800), Russia (1850), Japan (1860), Brazil (1929), India (1947), China (1953) and so on. (Albrecht 2012). Therefore, each country needs to define and document its sub-frames of the industrialization process, though in the general framework of the global periodization system[5].

    2. Overview of the Development of the Industrial Heritage in Belgium

    After a general overview of the main terms of the industrial heritage and its related issues, the motivation and significance of the conservation and renewal of the industrial heritage have been established. A particular focus is provided for the country, as one of the most important parts of the industrial system in the world, Belgium.

    In Continental Europe, Belgium is the first country, which absorbs and imports the U.K.’s Industrial Revolution achievements, in 1802 starting with the textile’s industrialization (cotton) in the region of Ghent and the wool in Verviers[7] Before this period, the country had an important industrialized activity focussed mainly on trading; on the other hand, in the region of Flanders, the textile production had been flourished, while in the Walloon region we could observe mainly the coal mining; these two branches have been the keys for industrialization in Belgium for many years.

    2.1. Overview of the Industrial Development in Belgium

    Belgium has a rich industrial past. An important landmark for Belgian heritage to mark out has been the first steal engine, inspired by T. Newcomen, which was succeeded by another one around the regions of Mons and Charleroi. During the period of the French domination (1795 to 1814), coal was mainly mined in the Borinage surroundings (province of Hainaut). From 1795 to 1814, coal was mined in the Borinage (southwest of Mons) to feed Paris via the river network, under the French administration. Based on the foundation of the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution of Belgium was the engine[8]. Around the 1800s, William Koclear set up the first factory in Seraing, near Liege, from which the Belgian Industrial Revolution began (Figure 2).

    Figure 2. Significant landmarks in the history of industrial development in Belgium (a. Date and event derived from Miklas Tich and Roy Porter (1996). b. Stage was defined by the author and references based on historical events).

    The regional distribution of the Industrial Revolution center in Belgium is presented in Table 1.

    Table 1. Belgian Industrial Revolution centers.

    District City a Field b Representative Industry
    Liege Verviers Industry promotion Machinery
    Charleroi Mons Industry promotion Coal
    - Ghent Industry promotion Textile
    - Antwerp Service Port
    - Brussels Service Capital

    a. City and its representative industry derived from Miklas Tich and Roy Porter (1996). b. Field was defined by the authors.

    But Belgian heavy industry took off during the Dutch rule of the country from 1815 to 1830. Notwithstanding, Belgian heavy industry took off during the Dutch rule of the country of the period 1815 to 1830. At the same period, William I, supported by J. Cockerill, exploited the activities around the textile machinery. At the end of the 18th century. Due to the introduction of the steam engine. Belgium was the first continental country into the Industrial Revolution. It started by industrializing the textile industry in Ghent (cotton) and Verviers (wool).

    As the first industrialized country on the European continent, Belgium quickly followed in Britain’s footsteps. However, only by the end of the 19th century, did industry and industrialized work become more important than agriculture and artisanal production. This becomes clear when looking at the employment figures. In 1846, the industrial census noted 90,000 industrial workers, or 4% of the total working population, whereas, by 1910, the industry employed nearly half of the working population. This perception of Belgium being a rapidly industrializing country was mainly due to coal mining and the metal and textile industry; the remains of Belgium’s industrial past are characterized by a great diversity [9][22]. Before this period, Belgium was a traditional industrial country in Europe[10].

    The first Industrial Revolution witnessed clusters of industrial activities located near the natural resources and raw materials. Liège already had exploited proto-industry with forges and gun manufacturing, while Charleroi was predominated in nail factories, so they were able to embrace coal mining, steel, and other metal activities extensively, which led to population movements from the countryside for job opportunities. From the other side, the canal of Brussels-Charleroi was inaugurated in 1832 by linking the mines to the North Sea through the city of Brussels (Figure 3)[11].

    Figure 3. The Brussels-Charleroi canal, 1966.

    At the same time, the center of Belgium, and in particular the part of its connection with the city of Antwerp, was gaining momentum with new industrialized activity. Antwerp and the port of Liege were gradually becoming the key logistics pivot of Belgium even for the whole of Western Europe (Figure 4) [12][25].

    Figure 4. Antwerp—an industrious historic city, 1863.

    After the First World War, the arrival of Ford and General Motors to Antwerp and Renault to Brussels was an important step for the industrialized activities of Belgium, while in 1917 the coal finding in Limburg (eastern Belgium) marked a new era. However, this evolution was ceased during the internal crisis of the 1930s[11].

    After the Second World War, the ‘heavy’ industrialized and intensive activities in the Walloon region seemed competitive; nonetheless, very soon the weaknesses and the need for modernization became apparent [11].

    3.2. Inspection and Research Institutions for Industrial Heritage

    The industry was engine by economic power primarily. However, the development path of industrial heritage was influenced by industrial heritage inspection and research institutions[13], for instance, the UNESCO assessed a set of industrial heritage list to protect the industrial sites in the range of the world. The industrial sites on the list can take higher-level protection than before. To have a comprehensive understanding of the development status of industrial heritage in each region, it is also necessary to understand the status quo of their own internal industrial heritage research institutions. The Industrial Revolution of the U.K. spends 50 years to spread into Belgium. Nonetheless, Belgium started an industry heritage investigation, followed by the U.K. tidy [14].

    In 1970, Georges van den Abeelen created the industrial archaeology center, it was a trigger for industrial inspection and record subject in Belgium [12]. Meanwhile, it was where the exhibition man and machine were held in Brussels two years later supported by historians and archaeologists from different fields.

    In Flanders, the VVIA (1978) had an important role on the national level and eventually represented the whole country at the issue of inspection and recording of the Belgian industrial heritage[15]. After an extensive analysis of research projects, and reports in 1984, based on the VVIA, the PIWB and TICCIH Belgium were established [16] as a triangular relationship. This is a unique situation in Western European countries (Table 2). Each institution is doing inspections and records for industrial heritages in their regionals.

    Table 2. Schedule of main industrial heritage inspection and research institutions in Western European countries.

    Location Organization Abbreviation a Established Time a
    The U.K. Association for Industrial Archaeology AIA 1973
    German The International Committee for the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage Deutsch TICCIH Deutsch 1978
    France Le Comité d’information et de liaison pour l’archéologie, l’étude et la mise en valeur du patrimoine industriel CILAC 1979
    The Netherlands Federatie Industrieel Erfgoed Nederland FIEN 1984

    Take the PIWB as an example, it was established at the time of the rise of industrial heritage protection in Belgium. In the early stage, its work mainly focused on the publicity of the restored sites and promoting the social protection of potential sites. With the advancement of research and the development of industrial tourism, the work of the PIWB has become diversified and the related fields have become wider. They began to pay attention to the relationship between industry and human beings. Meanwhile, the concept of industrial archaeology was expanding considerably, calling for vigilance extended to other fields—ancestral technologies and proto-industries, tangible as well as intangible heritage, oral history.

    3.3. Industrial Heritage in Belgium

    As previously mentioned, ‘industrialization’ has had different impacts leading to significant changes in the urban, social and cultural environment (for instance, greater density and more compact urban areas, population moves, etc.)., thus contributing to the typical 20th-century urban settlement[17]. The classification of territory as ‘industrial’ implied a qualitative perception, in which territory and industrial infrastructures were analyzed from a functional, cultural, and historic angle[18]. In this sense, and according to Borsi [19] the industrial landscape is “the landscape resultant from a thoughtful and systematic activity of man in the natural or agricultural landscape with the aim of developing activities related to the industry”. This definition enabled the recognition of an entire landscape as a single “element”, allowing the expansion of the conception of its conservation to accommodate “recognized patterns of activity in time and place” [20].

    Based on the ERIH, this research categorized the industrial heritage of Belgium (Table 3). Listing the most important elements of the Belgian industrial heritage, we observe that Belgium scatters its heritage in every corner with a variety of categories (Table 4).

    Table 3. Main categories of the Belgian industrial heritage.

    Heritage Category
    Industry and War
    Iron and Steel
    Production and Manufacturing
    Service and Leisure Industry

    Table 4. Main elements of the Belgian industrial heritage.