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Each scene from Auguste Labouret's (1871-1964) mosaic frescos, at the Art Deco train station (1927) in Lens, evokes the spirit of mining.
© Jean-Michel André

Nord-Pas de Calais Mining Basin, France

Nord-Pas de Calais, France
Located in the north of France, the Nord-Pas de Calais Mining Basin is a cultural landscape that stretches across around 4,000 hectares and is full of technical and architectural treasures resulting from three centuries of coal mining. By walking in the miners' footsteps down the shafts and hearing their stories first hand, you can begin to understand the life and conditions of the workers.

When you arrive in the Nord-Pas de Calais Mining Basin, you quickly discover a multi-layered and fascinating place, where many worlds merged to make a whole much larger than the sum of its parts. This World Heritage Site was a nexus for the exchange of ideas and influences about extraction methods used to mine underground coal seams, the design of worker housing and urban planning, and the international human migration that accompanied the industrialization of Europe.

The coal mining industry here employed hundreds of thousands of workers and, thus, the need for communities to support them. In an incredible series of urban development projects, entire towns were created in the region. Housing, churches, schools, hospitals, and sports facilities were created to make the workers’ families as comfortable as possible to encourage the miners to stay with their employers.

All underground resources, whatever they may be, demand extraction techniques and expertise common to miners worldwide. – © Mining History Centre (loan from ANMT)
All underground resources, whatever they may be, demand extraction techniques and expertise common to miners worldwide. – © Mining History Centre (loan from ANMT)

While mining ceased here in 1990, the Nord Pas-de-Calais has been careful to preserve its mining heritage - including the mines, miners, miners' dwellings and slag heaps. It is easy to spend a number of days discovering this vast landscape, and its many striking industrial landmarks such as the Loos-en-Gohelle twin slag heaps at Pit 11/19 - which are the tallest in Europe. In winter you can ski down the slopes, which makes for a unique experience. Over the years, Nord Pas-de-Calais has been working hard to establish itself as a diverse new destination through a number of major cultural, artistic, and environmental projects. Don't miss the '9-9bis' which combines mining heritage with live music at the Métaphone® Concert Hall, designed by Heraut Arnod Architects. The region even has its own Louvre musuem, the 'Louvre-Lens', built on an old coal pit in the heart of the mining area in 2012.

An Emotional Landscape

Stretching out over more than 120 kilometres west from the Belgian border, the Mining Basin is at the heart of a trade area—a crossroads of communication between North-western Europe’s largest cities. The breathtaking scenery and deep emotions expressed here will surprise you. Along your path of discovery, the mining sites and villages are just a few of the gems to experience.

At the Mining History Center in Lewarde, for instance, you'll immerse yourself in the history of the coal industry. At the Louvre-Lens Museum, you'll uncover an unexpected collection of masterpieces. You'll walk along the former railway lines to explore the unusual vistas and the scenic diversity of the mining villages. Above all, you'll meet Mining Basin locals, who have inherited this powerful and important history.

Contemplate three hundred years of history from the top of the spoil heaps by climbing the sensational “Pyramids” of the North. Pictured: a view of the twin slag heaps in Loos-en-Gohelle from the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. – © Jean-Michel André
Contemplate three hundred years of history from the top of the spoil heaps by climbing the sensational “Pyramids” of the North. Pictured: a view of the twin slag heaps in Loos-en-Gohelle from the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. – © Jean-Michel André

From the discovery of coal in 1720 to the closure of the last pit in 1990, the largest mining basin in France developed through innovation, sophisticated management decisions, labour struggles, and the weight of history. At the end of the nineteenth century, the Mining Basin had reached its peak, stretching across an area 120 kilometres long and 12 kilometres wide. The twentieth century was punctuated with disasters: the firedamp explosion in the Courrières mine in 1906; the First and Second World Wars; and the “Coal War” (from 1944 to 1947) that contributed to the reconstruction of France.


Video: The Mining Basin offers an outstanding heritage, breathtaking landscapes and a wonderful festive community - © Mission Bassin Minier Nord-Pas de Calais

Where Industry Meets Humanity

For adventurous travelers, the region is a continuous wonder of panoramas and activities explaining the importance of the industry and the region's 270-year influence upon it. The site, which covers thousands of hectares, is dotted with architectural, technical, and cultural monuments, such as extraction pits, head frames, spoil heaps, and mining villages brimming with tradition and character.

At the Arenberg pit at Wallers, for example, you're struck by the majestic nature of the colliery. You're greeted by the imposing stature of the 60-meter-tall head frame No. 3 while following the heritage route from building to building, machine to machine, and behind the scenes of a film or television shoot. Continue to the mining community to discover its splendid village hall—an unexpected treat in a forest setting, ideal for hiking or strolling in the great outdoors.

Opened in 1900 by the Anzin Mining Company, the Arenberg Pit in Wallers is a monument to the importance of mining at the dawn of the industrial age. – © Hubert Bouvet / Région Hauts-de-France
Opened in 1900 by the Anzin Mining Company, the Arenberg Pit in Wallers is a monument to the importance of mining at the dawn of the industrial age. – © Hubert Bouvet / Région Hauts-de-France

Another must-visit is the Delloye pit and the Mining History Centre at Lewarde. Visitors will find the largest mining museum in France and one of the very first in Europe. Three centuries of history are retraced by permanent and temporary exhibitions. Immerse yourself in the heart of the mine and experience this exciting industrial and human history, which includes cool tunnels, engine rooms, and mining lamps. This fascinating and unusual setting sparks wonder in children, and evokes the child in you.

Visitors take a deeper look in the mining tunnels of the Delloye pit at the Historic Mining Centre at Lewarde. – © JJ Gelbart
Visitors take a deeper look in the mining tunnels of the Delloye pit at the Historic Mining Centre at Lewarde. – © JJ Gelbart

In 1990, at the 9/9b pit at Oignies, mining stopped in the region. The pit is exceptional because of the conservation of its machines and the way it combines heritage with repurposing based on music—an important aspect of mining culture. Climb to the top of the spoil heap for a 360° panoramic view of the area. After, stay for a concert at the Métaphone® Concert Hall, which was repurposed by Heraut Arnod Architects.

Enjoy the conservation and repurposing of culture at the 9/9b colliery with the Metaphone Concert Hall. – © Jean-Michel André
Enjoy the conservation and repurposing of culture at the 9/9b colliery with the Metaphone Concert Hall. – © Jean-Michel André

With its imposing concentration tower, the architecture of the 11/19 pit at Loos-en-Gohelle will astound you. Today it is dedicated to sustainable development, which also tells the story of the Mining Basin’s reconversion. Nearby, you can stroll through a remarkable mining village and discover its exceptional facilities. The highlight of your visit will be to climb up the “Pyramids of the North”, two of Europe’s largest spoil heaps. When you reach the summit, you will be rewarded a hundredfold!

The pit at 11-19 in Loos-en-Gohelle. – ©Jean-Michel André
The pit at 11-19 in Loos-en-Gohelle. – ©Jean-Michel André

Moving forward, you'll see similar conversion and repurposing at the Electricians’ village at Bruay-La-Buissière, which opens in the spring of 2018. A jewel of a mining village, it is evolving into a cultural hub with tourist accommodations, artist residences, and an interpretation centre dedicated to the mining landscape and culture.


How to Get there

Located between London, Paris, and Brussels, the Mining Basin is easily accessible. If arriving by plane, please visit the Lille Airport site.

The different sites also are accessible by car from the various railway stations in the Mining Basin. For further information about train travel please visit this site. The main regional railway stations are in Lille Flandres and Lille Lesquin. The railway stations in Lens, Béthune, Valenciennes, and Douai are also convenient for many.

When to Visit

The Mining Basin is a year-round destination. To enjoy the anniversary celebrations of the Mining Basin’s World Heritage List inscription, plan your visit for the end of June to the beginning of July. During this period each year, the agenda is packed with original activities. For more information, please visit this site.

How to Visit

Because the Mining Basin extends 120 kilometres to the Belgian border, there is no set itinerary to discover the wealth of its landscapes. Please wear comfortable shoes for walking when visiting the sites, particularly the spoil heaps. It is best to drive from one site to the next in order to make the most of the Mining Basin. If you have several days and you prefer a “softer” mode of transport, there is a wonderful system of cycling trails to follow.

Visit

Nord-Pas de Calais Mining Basin, France

Hours

The Arenberg Pit at Wallers:
Opening hours: Visits by appointment only through the Porte du Hainaut Tourist Information Office.

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The Delloye Pit, Mining History Centre at Lewarde:
Opening hours:
From 1 March to 14 November: Monday to Sunday from 9:00 to 17:30.
From 15 November to 28 February: Monday to Saturday from 13:00 to 17:00. Sunday and public holidays: 10:00 to 17:00.
Pre-booked group visits from 8:00.

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The 9/9b Pit at Oignies:
Opening hours: Visits by appointment only through the 9/9b Heritage Department.

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The 11/19 Pit at Loos-en-Gohell:
Opening hours: Visits by appointment only through the Lens-Liévin Tourist Information Office.