The location and the building fit the museum perfectly: an old industrial quarter somewhat away from the centre of Liège, a disused sheet metal factory, which was set up by the Dothée brothers in 1848 – this is the site of the Maison de la Metallurgie. The house, which covers 2,5000 square metres, features themes such as power, metal processing and information technology. Lovers of old steam engines are sure to get their money´s worth, as are computer freaks and people who are curious to find out more about the history of gas and oil production. It goes without saying that there is a complete area dedicated to the Cockerill family dynasty, who played a decisive part in the industrial history of Liège. But more later …
At the start, visitors enter another world. The room seems dark, it smells of metal and rust. It is as if you had been transported back several centuries to Liège in the 17th and 18th century. The oldest blast furnace in Belgium, dating back to 1693, has been re-constructed here because it was impossible to keep it in its original location. Visitors get the feeling that a foreman might appear in the room at any moment to hand out instructions on filling the blast furnace with iron ore, coal and lime: or that the apprentice blacksmiths will stoke up the fire in the smithy and begin hammering away at the cast iron from the blast furnace in order to make it more malleable. Here you can feel the old „iron heart“ of Liège still beating.
More than 200 years ago, you would have seen many metal processing plants in the town. At a time when the rivers Ruhr and Emscher were still running through the rural countryside of North-West Germany, Liège was already known as „Europe´s forge“. Rich reserves of iron ore and coal, combined with the convenient waterway provided by River Maas, made the town one of the most important industrial urban centres on the continent during the Middle Ages. But Liège first became world-famous in 1807 when an English engineer named William Cockerill built an engine factory here. You can see a huge picture of him in the museum.
Over the years the Cockerill dynasty set up further industrial plants, including the iron and steelworks on the upper Maas in Seraing in 1816, one of the most gigantic and modern ironworks of its time. By 1825 it was employing around 2,000 workers. The later Cockerill Sambre plants now surround the Maas near Liège – a town which has retained the rough charm of an industrial metropolis.