Visiting the Blegny mine in Liège

On March 31, 1980, the Argenteau-Trembleur coal mine closed its doors to the many miners that had been working here for years.
Most coal mines in Belgium that closed down slowly dilapidated and were quickly demolished, but the province of Liège had other plans For the Blegny mine. Almost two months after the closure, the mine could already received curious visitors who wanted to know more about how it was to work in the coal mines.
Since 2012, this unique coal mine is even an UNESCO World Heritage Site of Belgium. Did you know that there are only four other coal mines in Europe that you can visit? For a unique, interesting and impressive experience, I can wholeheartedly recommend a visit to the coal mines of Liège!

blegny mine belgium

The coal mines of Blegny in Belgium. Impressive and interesting!

Its history and a word of explanation

The Blegny mine was opened in 1779, but it was only after a second opening in 1919 that the mine became really big. After a few setbacks -one of the two shafts was bombed during World War two- the capacity produced visibly increased. At its peak almost 700 people worked in this relatively small mine.

In the mine, dozens of nationalities worked. Italians are the best known work forces, but did you know that Moroccans, Turks, Polish, Spaniards, Hungarians and Greeks have worked in Belgian mines? Our guide told us that he had never known racism among all hundreds of employees in the mine. “In the underground everyone is black.”
There you have it. People can really work together if they need to.

The Blegny mine is one of the only European coal mines you can still visit today. This is because of its unique location. Once upon a time there were very high mountains, but after millions of years they were completely wiped out by erosion and the like.
Because coal requires a lot of pressure to be formed, you rarely find it so close to the top layers. Because these mountains were scraped away, coal could be mined very close to the surface.

That is also the reason why you can’t visit the mines in Limburg (In Flanders, Belgium). The coal mines in Belgian Limburg start a lot deeper, and the problem is that a lot of water is constantly flooding these deep corridors. In Blegny they don’t have this problem in the first two shafts, and this makes it perfectly possible to visit the hallways at thirty and sixty meters.
All the deeper shafts (in Blegny up to about 550 meters or 1805 feet deep) are completely submerged.

When mining still took place, 30% of the production cost went to pumping away all of this water!

blegny mines liege luik

The visitors center from the Blegny mines in Liège or Luik.

Visiting the Blegny mines

At 2 pm we were kindly requested to take a seat. A short introductory film about the Blegny mine was shown. The somewhat outdated presentation gives a clear insight into the life of many Belgian miners. Although work in the mine was hard, most people didn’t complain. They earned well and, as our guide repeatedly said, “All the work at that time was hard. Whether you worked in the mines or as a farmer on the countryside.”

After the movie, the guide takes you to a side room where you put on, like real miners, a funny costume. A thin miners jacket and a safety helmet.

After that you are taken outside. Underneath the big building there is a small, somewhat old lift. When real miners worked here, they were stuffed with eighteen men together in this iron cage. We were with fourteen and already we found it quite tight!
After a short explanation of our great guide we dropped at four meters per second to the first shaft at a depth of thirty meters (100 feet).

coal mine blegny belgium

Ready to descend!

30 meters (100 feet) below the ground

During the descent you will see the different layers of mother earth flashing by. The elevator comes abruptly to an end, and when the steel door is thrown open, you’ll immediately get to see these dark corridors.

You’ll probably notice right away that this shaft looks quite short, because you hit a door pretty soon. This door ensures that not all of the above-ground oxygen stays in this corridor, but also leads to the deeper shafts. Air is looking for the shortest route, and if these doors weren’t there, there would be no oxygen flowing to the underlying corridors. The miners of all floors had to breathe!

This dark hallway is surprisingly high, and when you look at the ceiling you see that everything is also very well supported. The metal beams are a little rusty, but that’s just because of all the groundwater that slowly drips down. Fortunately, you get plastic helmet. Otherwise you would be completely soaked by the end of the tour.

Our Belgian guide had worked for many years in the mines of Limburg and thus perfectly knew how a day in the coal mines was. During our tour, the funny man showed us many tools used by the miners. Hand tools, but also industrial machines that made a lot -really, A LOT!- of noise. In addition to pneumoconiosis and other diseases it wasn’t surprising that a lot of miners suffered from hearing loss as well.

mine of blegny descent

At the left side of the stairs you can see the small openings where the miners had to clim up and down from.

60 meters (200 feet) below the ground

After we had completely crossed the corridor at thirty meters, we dropped a little deeper into these former coal mines. We could easily take the stairs to the second floor, but that wasn’t always the case.

The miners who drilled for coal did that in an ingenious yet strange way. Along the sides of the corridors you’ll see all sorts of steep (very narrow!) Passages. These openings were well supported so that there was no danger of collapsing, and eventually they went so deep that these openings led to the next shaft (here at sixty meters).
All the coal falling down from these almost vertical shafts was collected in trolleys and then transported upwards with the elevator.

The transport of these heavy loads was done by horses. These poor animals were tied up in the elevator, because of course they didn’t naturally want to go down. Once they were brought into the mines, they had to pull coal until the end of their career. When they became old, they got a quiet life in the meadow or were sent to the slaughterhouse. In any case, the mines didn’t let any horses die underground. After all, it was almost impossible to get these huge animals out of the narrow underground paths…

Anyway. There were no stairs at that time. To lower yourself to another floor you had to slide down via one of these openings. When you wanted to get back up, you had to climb back up… And that was a little more tiring!

Sixty meters below the ground and the whole process of mining repeats itself. Just as in the hallway above us, the people on this floor worked just as hard.

coal mine Europe Blegny Mine

After the tour at 60 meters (200 feet), we take the elevator back up.

Above ground

After the underground tour you get to go back into the old sardine tin and this time you will rise to the highest point of the mine.
Above the Blegny mine is a strange building. This structure made sure that all the coal, after sorting from rocks, was cleaned and sorted by size.

Everything that was not coal was thrown onto an assembly line and poured next to the building. As a result, a real hill formed next to the Blegny mine. In the meantime a beautiful little forest has grown all this stone grit.

After the coal was sorted by size, everything was packed and taken to the customer by horse and cart and later on by train.

I had always known that mining for coal should’ve been a heavy occupation, but never had I expected that there was so much more work besides just the coal mining!

coal mine europe blegny mine belgium

Once the coal reached the upperground, there was still a lot of work to do. Sorting, cleaning and getting ready to be sold!

Tickets for the Blegny mine

You can always buy tickets at the Blegny mine itself, but when there are many visitors, you may need to wait for a next tour to join.

The best way to guarantee your tickets is by booking online, or by calling the Blegny mines at +32 (0) 4 387 43 32.
You can book tickets online until two days before your visit. Telephone reservations can be made on the day itself, and if you don’t speak French or Dutch: the receptionist speaks excellent English.
When you’re booking by telephone, indicate the hour of the visit and the desired language of the tour.

French guided tours are at 11 AM, 12:30 PM, 1:30 PM, 2:30 PM, 3:30 PM or 4:30 PM.
Dutch guided tours are at 10:30 AM, 11:30 AM, 1 PM, 2 PM, 3 PM and 4 PM.
English people can go on a tour at all of these hours.

An adult ticket costs €10.20. Children up to twelve years pay €7.20 and retirees pay €8.90.

blegny mine UNESCO belgium

Even for the great outfit alone you would consider a trip to the Blegny mines!

Other excursions

From the Blegny mine, many other excursions can be arranged in and around Liège. You can also visit the mining museum, take a tour on the tourist train or plan a guided tour along the Blegny stone mountain.

Do you have enough of the coal mines? Take a look at these excursions in Liège:

 

» All tours and excursions in Liège

Tips for visiting the UNESCO Blegny mine

  • Almost everywhere you see signs that taking photos aren’t allowed, but the guides don’t mind at all. So be sure to take your camera with you for a nice souvenir of your visit. A tripod is also allowed.
  • Take a sweater, even on hot days. The constant temperature in the shafts is between 13 and 14 degrees celsius or 55 to 57 fahrenheit.
  • Keep your helmet on all the time. It’s not just for security reasons, but there is also constant rainwater that drips through the ground.
  • Ask questions! There are a lot of interesting facts to be asked/told. The guides working there all have a background in the mining industry and can therefore answer (almost) all the questions.
mine of blegny UNESCO

Only a small piece of the production process is done above the ground. Underground is where you’ll find a whole new world!

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Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.
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