26 Mar 2013


Marcinelle is a Walloon town near the Charleroi (Belgium). It's a rather sad place because one of the most important coal mine catastrophes took place here in 1956.

In the years 50 and 60, Belgium needed badly miners, and 200 000  immigrants arrived in Belgium from Italy. Belgium had an agreement with Italy to exchange labor against coal. In 1956, a total of 44,000 Italians worked in the mines of Belgium. They were promised a lot, houses good salaries etc but the truth was different.

Never had the mine claimed as many victims in exchange for the coal extracted from its bowels as on 8th August 1956 at the Bois du Cazier. As a result of human error, a fire rapidly spread to the whole mine. A total of 262 men, of 12 different nationalities (including 136 Italians and 95 Belgians) lost their lives, leaving hundreds of widows and orphans. This resulted in an end to Italian immigration into Belgium and stricter regulations on safety at work.

The promises

The day of the catastrophe

The entrance today

You still can see the huge wheels which held the lifts going into the mine

Some of the buildings are still standing on the site and can be visited

In the mine

The Italian immigrants lived in these metallic hangars, very cold in winter and very hot in summer.

In these narrow shafts the miners worked the whole day

Still to be seen is the control board and the only telephone which connected the outside world to the miners in the shafts. The clock stood still when the incident happened. The miners could only be identified with these numbered buttons, no name was on them. It made it very hard to find the corresponding names to these numbers.

At the beginning there was not even running water, showers came later

There is a memorial with the pictures of the dead miners which the Italian families had given for this little chapel.

The memorials

and some very touching sculptures

Currently, the mine is a museum dedicated to the disaster, as well as the history of the region through the Industrial Revolution and, of course, to coal in general.


Randi said...

The photos are very special!
This is a sad and very interesting post.

Anonymous said...

What a horrible tragedy. Interesting museum.

LifeRamblings said...

what a wonderful museum. it's a great way to honour and remember those fallen heroes.

Gary said...

Mining is such a demeaning human occupation in all ways. Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

Dana said...

What a sad story. I'm glad the museum is there to honor those who lost their lives.

Mara said...

That sounds like a very interesting place to visit some day. My list is ever growing!

EastCoastLife said...

tragic, I feel sad for the families of the deceased. We still hear such sad stories happening in the mines in China.

Fun60 said...

Such a tragic end to so many young lives. It is easy to forget how difficult it was to obtain the coal needed to keep the fires and furnaces burning.

A Lady's Life said...

Isn't that awful.
So many people were hurt in so many mines all over the world.
They made a nice tribute to these poor people.

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Such a sad thing -- I would really not wish to live in a town where tragedy of that magnitude happened, it just seems like the ghosts would still be there. (I'm really not that woo woo kind of person, but, ...well, maybe I am kind of.) The statutes and museum are very fitting memorials.

jennyfreckles said...

How sad. I was brought up in a coal-mining community, though I don't recall any such terrible disasters. The miners suffered long after their work ended though. My grandfather had severe lung disease from his years down the mines.
Glad you are recovering from your cold. I'm much better too.

chai-and-chardonnay.blogspot.com said...

Tragic story! But very interesting buildings .

Friko said...

A very interesting post. I used to work for the Miners’ international Federation and this particular disaster was still referred to in mining history in the 70s and 80s.

It’s good that the miners killed are not forgotten. We owe a huge debt to the men who risked their lives underground for not very high wages.

Jesh St Germain said...

Thank you for sharing this post - it must have been an overwhelming day of loss and grief (at that time I was 6, no TV so I have not memory of knowing about this). Love the sculptures as memorials! Since it were the women and children who were left behind, I wonder if these families went back to Italy?

SandyCarlson said...

Powerful. Thanks for sharing this, my friend. You taught me plenty.