What a sight! The long line of carefully built individual showers in the miners’ washroom appears to be never-ending. Here every man had his own cabin. The progressive features on the site are mainly due to the fact that the colliery was built relatively late – shortly after 1900. For this reason it is still in an impressively good condition. Nowadays the colliery near Beringen in Limburg (Belgium) is the site of the Flemish Mining Museum. Visitors are put in the appropriate mood by a documentary film showing aspects of the everyday life of the miners in the old times. The subsequent guided tour of the simulated galleries enables them to get a more literal grasp of the colliers’ world. The tour is further enhanced by the model of a colliery which explains the complicated operations, complete with sounds and illuminations. Finally, the exhibition in the visitor centre puts the whole experience in the context of regional mining history. After that it is high time to take a walk along the colliers’ trail, which leads from the miners washrooms, via the lamp room and wages house to one of the huge pithead towers. And those who still have the time and energy, can then pay a visit to the neighbouring working class housing estate, complete with its mining cathedral.
The so-called "Coal Mountain" provides visitors with the best all-round view of the surrounding countryside. From the peak of the greened-over tip you can let your eyes wander undisturbed over pithead towers, the tipper house and the coal washing plant, to the lines of railways with their abandoned wagons which are slowly being taken over by nature, and on to the nearby colliery housing settlement beyond. Somehow it all doesn´t seem to fit in with the wide stretches of heathland in the surrounding countryside. The fact is that the coal region around Limburg was one of the last to be built - and the most short lived - in the whole of Europe.
Its history began around 1900 when the Belgian government decided to promote coal mining in the most easterly province of the country. The reason for this was the heavy demand for high-quality coal from steel producers at home and abroad. Mining began in Limburg in 1901 and, in the course of time, expanded to comprise seven collieries. But as early as the end of the 1950s the industry came up against heavy competition from less expensive sources of energy like oil and gas. The last active colliery in the Limburg region closed down in 1992. Only the colliery near Beringen has survived – as the site of the Flemish Coal Mining Museum. The size of the site gives visitors a good idea of the huge amount of coal which was mined in the region. Four pithead buildings alone were responsible for connecting the overhead site with the galleries beneath.
The complete complex arose practically in the middle of fields and meadows: there was scarcely any existing industrial infrastructure. This can be seen in neighbouring Beringen. Here a completely new working class area was built from nothing to accommodate the workers at the pit. The clinkered facades of the lines of houses are not merely a geographical extension of the monumental buildings at the coal mine. Now the housing estate is part of the industrial monument, as are the greened-over tips at the rear of the old mining site. Originally made up of waste coal from the washing plant these imposing "hills" set a clear accident in the otherwise flat countryside in the Limburg region.
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