Located in the North of France, the Nord-Pas de Calais mining basin is a cultural landscape, extending over nearly 4,000 hectares, rich in technical and architectural heritage reflecting a past of three centuries of coal extraction. By following the footsteps of the miners through the mine shafts and listening to their testimonies, visitors will understand the living conditions of those workers.
This basin was a center for the exchange of ideas and influences regarding the methods used for underground coal mining, the design and planning of workers’ housing, and the international human migration that accompanied the industrialization of Europe.
Here, the coal industry employed hundreds of thousands of workers who had to be supported by the local communities. Entire towns were created in the region in an effort to achieve urban development. Housing, churches, schools, hospitals and sports facilities were created to make the workers’ families feel comfortable and to encourage the miners to remain loyal to their employers.
The history of the mining era in northern France is recorded in more than 100 sites in the region, from mining plants to towns to railroads to memorials. The marks left by the industry are visible throughout the surrounding green countryside. The Nord-Pas-de-Calais coalfield allows visitors to imagine this dynamic world as it was in its heyday. They can learn about the daily routine of the workers and even talk to the miners about their life underground.
The twin slag heaps of Loos-en-Gohelle at shaft 11/19 are the highest in Europe. In winter, travelers can ski on the slopes, which is a unique experience. Over the years, Nord Pas-de-Calais has worked to establish itself as a new and diverse destination through many major cultural, artistic and environmental projects. The region even has its own Louvre museum, the Louvre-Lens, built on a former coal mine in the heart of the mining area in 2012.
Stretching for more than 120 kilometers west of the Belgian border, the mining basin is at the heart of a commercial zone, a real crossroads of communication between the largest cities in Northwest Europe. The breathtaking landscapes and the deep emotions that are expressed here will surprise you. The mining sites and villages along the way are just a few of the gems to discover.
At the Historical Mining Center of Lewarde, visitors can learn all the details and history of the coal industry. At the Louvre-Lens Museum, they will discover an unexpected collection of masterpieces. From the discovery of coal in 1720 to the closing of the last pit in 1990, the largest mining basin in France has been built according to prospecting, innovations, companies, employers’ decisions, workers’ struggles, and the events of history.
At the end of the 19th century, the mining basin reached its peak and extended over 120 kilometers long and 12 kilometers wide. The 20th century was punctuated by disasters: the Courrières mine firedamp in 1906, the First and Second World Wars, and the Battle of the Coal (1944-1947) which contributed to the reconstruction of France.
At the Arenberg pit in Wallers, visitors will be greeted by the imposing 60-meter-high No. 3 headframe, then follow the heritage trail from building to building, machine to machine, and get a behind-the-scenes look at a film or television shoot. The Delloye pit and the Mining History Center of Lewarde are other attractions that are not to be missed. Three centuries of history are retraced by permanent and temporary exhibitions.