Belgium has a rich mining history and several of its mining sites have been declared Unesco World Heritage. My goal is to eventually visit all of the Unesco sites in Belgium, so when I spent a night in Mons a while ago, it would have been silly not to drive a bit further through to the old coal mining site of Grand-Hornu.
It felt a bit weird arriving at Grand-Hornu, because you’re basically driving on this small town road when suddenly, to your left, this huge parking space pops up with an even bigger building behind it. There weren’t that many cars when I was visiting – it was a weekday, after all – but a big bus had just dropped of a bunch of school kids.
A bit of history
Grand-Hornu was built between 1810 and 1830 as an industrial mining site in a Neoclassical style. Its founder, Henry de Gorge, wanted to create a mining city where its workers could live and work with a level of comfort that was unheard of for that time. He had the site built so that it didn’t just include the mining complex, but also a residential area where the workers and director used to live. The houses there were spacious and all equipped with hot running water. Some of them even had a garden. And top it off, Grand-Hornu got its own school, library and dance hall.
Modern arts at Grand-Hornu
What remains of the old mining site today is mostly the enormous building. Grand-Hornu has been transformed into an art space shared by the Musée des Arts Contemporains (MAC’s) and the Centre d’Innovation et Design (CID) and hosts temporary exhibitions of contemporary art and design. Its currently owned by the province of Hainaut.
At the time I was visiting, there was a Christian Boltanski exhibition going on at the MAC’s and a Jasper Morrison exhibition at the CID. Christian Boltanski is a French artist who explores the boundary between presence and absence and works with objects from the past or “memory objects” to create emotion.
Jasper Morrison is a world renowned designer who’s been working in the art scene for over 35 years already. His exhibition at Grand-Hornu was the first retrospective he did.
Rue Ste.-Louise 82
7301 Boussu (Hornu)
Visit the website for up to date entry rates and opening hours.
You can visit the domain by yourself or with a guide (to be requested beforehand).
I was invited to visit Grand-Hornu by the tourism board of Wallonie-Bruxelles. As always, all opinions are my own.