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Charleroi

[shar-luh rwa]

Charleroi (Tchålerwè) is the largest city and municipality of Wallonia, located in the province of Hainaut, Belgium. On January 1 2006, Charleroi had a total population of 201,300. The agglomeration has a population of around 500,000 inhabitants, which makes it the fifth largest agglomeration of the country. The inhabitants are called Carolorégiens or simply Carolos.

The municipality features an industrial area, iron and steel industry, glassworks, chemicals, and electrical engineering. Charleroi is in the center of a vast coal basin, called Pays noir. Many slag heaps still surround the city. Charleroi is also known for its publishing industry with Dupuis, one of the main publishers of Franco-Belgian comics, located in Marcinelle.

Geography

The municipality of Charleroi is situated on both banks of the river Sambre, in an area that is marked by industrial activities (coal mining and steel industry), the so-called Pays Noir ("black country"), part of the larger sillon industriel. Although most of the factories have closed since the 1950s, the landscape is still dotted with slag heaps and old industrial buildings. The municipality includes the central city of Charleroi and the following former municipalities, that were merged into Charleroi in 1977: Couillet, Dampremy, Gilly, Gosselies, Goutroux, Jumet, Lodelinsart, Marchienne-au-Pont, Marcinelle, Monceau-sur-Sambre, Montignies-sur-Sambre, Mont-sur-Marchienne, Ransart, Roux.

History

Origins

The Charleroi area was already settled in the Prehistoric period, with traces of metallurgical and commercial activities along the Sambre. Several public buildings, temples and villas were built in that area in the Roman period. Burying places, with jewels and weapons, were also found. The first written mention of a place called Charnoy dates from a 9th-century offering in the Lobbes abbey, which lists various neighbouring towns and related tithe duties. During the Middle Ages, Charnoy was just one of the many small hamlets in the area, with no more than about 50 inhabitants, part of the County of Namur.

Foundation of the City

The history of the city of Charleroi starts in 1666. In the spring of that year, Francisco Castel Rodrigo, Governor of the Netherlands at the service of the five-year-old Charles II of Spain, expropriated the area from the local lords to build a fortress near the Sambre. In September of that same year, the name Charnoy is officially ended and replaced by that of the newly founded city of Charles-Roy, so named in honour of Charles II. The chronogram FVNDATVR CAROLOREGIVM (MLCDVVVI), can be found in the register of the parish of Charnoy for the year 1666. A year later, Louis XIV’s armies under the command of Turenne besieged the unfinished fortress. Vauban completed the fortification work; the future city was granted its privileges; a bridge was built over the river; and free land was distributed to the inhabitants.

From 1666 to the Belgian Revolution

Shortly after its foundation, the new city was in turn besieged by the Dutch, ceded to the Spanish in 1678 (Treaty of Nijmegen), taken by the French in 1693, ceded again to the Spanish in 1698 (Treaty of Rijswijk), then taken by the French, the Dutch, and the Austrians in 1714 (Treaty of Baden). The French Prince of Conti took the city again in 1745, but it was ceded back to Austria in 1748, starting a period of prosperity under Joseph II. The glass, steel and coal industries, which had already sprung up a century earlier, could now flourish.

Trouble started again in 1790, year of the civil uprising that eventually led to the United States of Belgium. The Austrians occupied the city, were forced out by the French after the Battle of Jemappes on November 6, 1792, but took it back again four months later. On June 12, 1794, the French revolutionary Army of Sambre-et-Meuse under the command of Jean-Baptiste Jourdan, invested Charleroi and won a decisive victory in the ensuing Battle of Fleurus. The city took the revolutionary name of Libre-sur-Sambre until 1800. Napoleon stayed in Charleroi for a couple of days in July 1815, just before the Battle of Waterloo. After his defeat, the whole area was annexed to the Netherlands and new walls were built around the city.

From 1830 until now

The Belgian Revolution of 1830 ushered in a new era of prosperity, still based mostly on glass, metallurgy, and coal, hence the area’s name of “Black Country” (in French Pays Noir). After the Industrial Revolution, Charleroi benefited from the increased use of coke in the metallurgical industry. People from all over Europe were attracted by the economic opportunities and the population grew rapidly. By 1871, the fortified walls around the city were completely torn down. Heavy fighting took place in World War I because of the city’s strategic location on the Sambre. After World War II, Charleroi witnessed a general decline of its heavy industry. Following the merger with several surrounding municipalities in 1977, the city is today the largest city in Wallonia and the fourth largest in Belgium.

Politics

The Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste or PS) has had a stronghold in Charleroi for some time. However, in October 2006, PS mayor Jacques Van Gompel was jailed on fraud and forgery charges. Léon Casaert, also of the PS, became the new mayor, with a PS, MR, cdH majority. The MR stepped down from the coalition just before the 2007 general election, citing official charges of corruption levelled against a PS alderman in Charleroi. After the 2007 general election, the PS put its local party office under full confinement, with the city executive resigning. Mayor Casaert was charged with fraud on June 18, 2007, but will only step down after a new city executive has been formed.

Municipal elections

Party 2000 (%) 2006 (%)
Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste) 51.4 38.4
Reformist Movement (Mouvement Réformateur) 16.1 24.6
Humanist Democratic Centre (Centre Démocrate Humaniste) 9.6 14.4
Ecolo 11.4 8.1
National Front (Front National) 6.9 9.5

Sights

  • The belfry is included in the list of World Heritage Sites.
  • The Maison Dorée was built in 1899 by the Art Nouveau architect Alfred Frère. The name of this masterpiece comes from the golden sgraffiti that adorn the façade.
  • The city is also the home of several museums (fine arts, glass, photography, ...)

Transport

Air

Main article: Brussels South Charleroi Airport

The local airport in Gosselies, 7km north of the centre, opened in 1919 as a flight school. Later, it housed a factory building Fairey aircraft under licence.

Gosselies is now used as an alternate airport for Brussels. Low-cost carrier Ryanair is the largest airline, along with flights by Wizz Air, Jet4you and (in the summer only) OnAir (airline). Seasonal holiday charters also use the airport.

A new terminal opened in January 2008, replacing a much smaller building which had exceeded capacity.

Public transport

Public transport is run by TEC (Transport En Commun), the Walloon public transport company. The greater Charleroi region is served by bus lines and a light rail Metro system (Métro Léger de Charleroi). Part of the latter is famous for incorporating one of the few remnants of the Vicinal, the former Belgian national tramway network.

The métro: grand plans unrealized

Main article: Charleroi Pre-metro

The TEC Light Rail Métro is equally famous for the parts of it which were never built, partially built, or fully completed but not opened. It was planned in the 1960s as a 48-km light rail network, operating on heavy rail metro infrastructure, consisting of eight branch lines radiating from a central loop downtown. However only one line (to Petria), part of another line (to Gilly), and three-quarters of the loop were actually built and opened to traffic, all between 1976 and 1996. Another branch line towards the suburb of Châtelet (Châtelineau) was almost fully built, to the extent of installing power cables, escalators and still-working electric signals in the first three stations, but never opened as passenger numbers would be too low to pay for the extra staff. The high costs of construction, together with a decline in Charleroi's traditional "smokestack" industries, and questioning of the scope of the whole project in proportion to the actual demand for it, are all cited as reasons for the original plan going unfulfilled.

Completion of the central loop and the Gilly branch as far as Soleilmont are planned within the next five years, with funding from the European Investment Bank. The Gosselies branch will also open as a street-level tramline. There are no plans to open any part of the Chatelet branch.

People born in Charleroi

Other people who lived in Charleroi

Twin cities

See also

References

External links

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