Want to see something unique in Belgium? Discover "Le Pays Noir" in the forgotten city of Charleroi, from underground parties, abandoned buildings to the most depressing street in Belgium. The city organizes urbex-walks with a guide who tells you all about the abandoned charm of the city. I did the urbex exploration on my own but click here to see the tours.
Why "Le Pays Noir"?
Charleroi was known for its industrial activities back in the days. The city was the prime source for coal mines and steel industries and when they had to shut down, the problems came with it. Even up to today the city has a hard time recovering from their past. In a recent study, Charleroi was declared the ugliest city in the world. Although that might be a hard thing to say, the city owns it and organizes tours for the dark tourists alongside the most depressing street in Belgium, abandoned buildings, forgotten underground, and splendid graffiti walls.
Next to attracting tourists, the city is making improvements on infrastructure and overall satisfaction of its citizens, but with budgetary problems, the road is still long. Nevertheless, I find that Charleroi has a charm when it comes to the old buildings taking you back in history. I invite you today on a do-it-yourself trip through the abandoned charm of Charleroi.
The Powerplant IM
UPDATE: the staircase towards the tower has been destroyed. Unfortunately, it is not possible anymore to visit the Powerplant IM from inside.
Charleroi's cooling tower is an impressive building where your footsteps echo against the enormous walls and where snapping your fingers makes the strangest sounds.
For many years, this cooling tower was Charleroi's main source of energy, but a study in 2006 showed that the tower alone accounted for 10% of Belgium's total CO2 emissions. After long protests by Greenpeace in the same year, the cooling tower had to close.
The electrical company
Across the Power Plant you will see another astonishing empty building, the old electrical company. You can cross the river by using the bridge of the dam. If you go around the building until the end you will see a big gap in the fence, where you can enter. You will have to climb up a hill of stones to arrive at the building.
Though it is nice to walk through the underground and on the terrain itself, we didn’t dare to go inside because the floor seemed really unstable. You can see the inside from the building through the windows and I believe the second floor collapsed at some places.
The abandoned terrain is very big in that area, so there are even more buildings to discover there. Other interesting places to discover in Charleroi are the abandoned train stations and train tracks that were supposed to go all around the province.
The Metro Leger line
Back in the 60s Charleroi presented a plan to create a train track of 52-km long called the Chatelet line. The city has around 500 000 inhabitants, making it the fifth-largest agglomeration in Belgium. That’s why they thought this project would be a goldmine, but unfortunately, after the creation of the train tracks, it seemed only three lines were used. They had to shut down the project resulting in over 6,8 km of unused train tracks and 8 abandoned stations. Today you can visit the tracks covered with plants, or visit one of the stations. The abandoned station of Chet has never been used before and is covered with beautiful graffiti.
p.s. You still need to look out when going on the tracks, because the city has done some renovations and some lines are open again.
Rockerill is a perfect example of giving old and abandoned buildings a new vibe. This place is so amazing and if you ever want to go party there just give me a call, I'm in! In 1835 Rockerill was actually called la Providence. This was a big strategic steel factory that was running full speed but declined after the 80s.
Young artists saved the industrial wasteland in 2005 and opened Rockerill, giving La providence a whole new life. Nowadays this place is the beating heart of concert halls, artist workshops, and the creation of the Rockerill Records label. In this sick location, the Rockerill group and the Plasma club welcome over 300 artists a year. Check out their agenda here.
Terril Saint-Charles route and viewpoint
At only a few minutes from the city, you will find the "Terril de Saint-Charles" route, offering you a viewpoint over Charleroi. The walk takes you up the slag heaps that were mined for its residual coal. From there you can see how green Charleroi actually is. You will have an excellent view of the old steel factories such as Marcinelle and Marchienne-au-Pont and the remaining series of slag heaps. A little hint for photographers: the light over Charleroi is the best in the afternoon and evening.
Although the city is not as impressive as Brussels or Antwerp, it still has a very unique charm. Charleroi is an ideal place for urbexers and people who like an adventure.
Keep on dreaming and Fly Along!