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Charleroi : an old industrial center

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Plan of the fortifications around Charleroi in the 18th centuryThe  Spanish king Carlos IICharleroi was founded in 1666, which is relatively late compared to the other cities in Belgium. The Spanish who ruled the Low Countries in the 17th century built a fortification close to the village of Charnoy. This fortification was meant to keep the troops of the imperialist French king Louis XIV out of the Spanish possessions. The star-shaped stronghold received the name CHARLE-ROY (after the Spanish king Charles II). However, in 1667-1678 the French took the new city and expanded it. Already then, the difference between upper and lower city was made.

In the 19th century, Charleroi became the heart of the 'pays noir' (the black country), the country of the coal-mines. This area was (together with the Liège region) the center of the rapidly industrialized Belgium. The city walls were destroyed in 1867 and new boroughs were founded. The coal miners of the 'pays noir' settled in the nearby villages, which until today, have preserved a relative autonomy and independence from the big city. Nowadays, greater Charleroi has a population of about 200.000 inhabitants.

The town hall of CharleroiThe two centers of the city are situated around two squares. The oldest one is the Place Charles II (Charles II square). It lies in the Inside view of the Saint Christophe church.upper town. The town hall built in 1936 by Joseph Andre in neo-classicist style has Art Déco decorations on the inside. The town hall harbors two museums : the Musée des Beaux Arts (with 19th and 20th century paintings) and the Jules Destrée museum (a famous Walloon politician who lived from 1863 to 1936). The main church around the square is the Saint-Christopher Basilica, built in Baroque style at the end of the 17th century. The dome of the Basilica and the mosaics in the choir date from 1956. The 'Place du Manège' is dominated by the 'Palais des Beaux Arts' (palace of fine arts), a concert and theater hall. Close to the Palace of Justice is another museum worthy of a visit. In the 'Musee du Verre' (Glass museum) the visitor can learn all about the glass industry which was once the pride of Charleroi.

The lower part of the city is situated around 'Place Albert Ier' (Albert I square). Most of the seats of the commercial and financial companies are concentrated in this part. It is also here that the important annual Mardi Gras of the city takes place. The boulevard Joseph Triou is situated on the old bedding of the Sambre river which flows through Charleroi. The pedestrian bridge leading to the Charleroi-Sud train station is decorated with two sculptures of one of the most famous 19th century Belgian sculptors: Constantin Meunier. The sculptures are called : the Coalminer and the Blacksmith.


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