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Eisden Maasmechelen Belgium

Sint-Barbara Church - Mining Cathedral

Gianni's cousins Jean-Marie, Beniamino and Massimo grew up and some live in the town of Eisden, a borough in the township of Maasmechelen, Belgium. A one and a half hour drive from the airport in Brussels the capital of Belgium.

Eisden is best known for the Eisden Coal Mine, one of the seven in the Kempen Basin region of Limburg, where coal was discovered in 1901 by Andre Dumont. Because this was a relatively sparsely populated border area, the mine had to pull out all the stops to attract unskilled miners. Therefore, in 1908 the mine started purchasing land to build houses for about 4000 staff members.

Leon Jamine, a provincial architect, was hired to build the cité (residential area built near mining site) about 1.5 km from the mine. Construction started in 1911 and by 1914, 110 homes were ready and housed engineers, shaft specialists and directors. With the first World War, not many more homes were built and it wasn't until 1923 that many more were built and miners came from Europe to the promise of a home and a job they would be trained in. The Garden District became a multicultural society with people from Central and Eastern Europe.

Railways, tramlines, city hall, boys and girls school, banquet hall, science school and church were also built to support the growing population. By 1949, other garden districts were established resulting in huge growth which included Polish and Slovenian halls, Turkish and two Moroccan mosques, a Greek church and Italian cultural center.

The mine itself had floors at 600, 700 and 780 meters below ground and were accessible via inclined galleries. These ran in every direction. The peak of employment was in 1955 where there were 7340 miners and 1957 was the record year with a production of 1,883,420 tons of coal. 282 miners died in the mines, however many more died of silicosis, lung disease. A condition that wasn't recognized as an occupational disease in Belgium until 1963.

The mine closed in 1987 and for a short while tours were being conducted where visitors took a train into the mine then had to walk or crawl for miles through the galleries and piers. Children and elderly were not allowed on the tours. By December of 1987, the mine was permanently closed. The mine shafts were filled in and the underground tunnel system collapsed and flooded with groundwater, so the mine could no longer be accessible.

Here are photos of the mine location today and some photo's of photos of time past:

In honour of the miners that died working in the mine "De Putmannen" monument stands on the Saint Barbara Church square. It was designed by the Eisden artist Pollie Gregor. He designed a hollow, rectangular column on a low plinth, with two open walls, which 'create' a passage, gate or elevator car with a glass floor above a deep 'well'. It refers to the mine; the surface. It was inaugurated in April 2012.

Here are photos of "De Putmannen" monument:

Sint-Barbarakerk (Saint Barbara's Church), also known as mining cathedral, in Eisden-Tuinwijk, is a minutes walk from Gianni's family home. It stands a massive 53 meters high and was built between 1934 and 1936. The Brussels architect Auguste Vanden Nieuwenborg designed a monumental church in the style of brick expressionism, with Gothic elements such as pointed arch windows. Not going to lie, it is a bit eerie walking by it, as you wouldn't think it is a Catholic church.

The inside is a gothic as the outside. The furniture is from after 1945 but the organ dates back to 1939 and was built by the Delmotte factory. The stations of the cross are made of black marble in bas-relief style which is a three-dimensional sculpture image.

Here are pictures of this grandiose church:

The "Museum of the Miners" located in the garden district is a restored 2-family house that is now used to host the museum dedicated to the miners homes. It is run by volunteers of the Eisden Heritage Foundation and supported by the municipality.

The house was built in 1925 and rented by families until 1934 which at that time, being the proximity was close to the church, the left part of the house was occupied by the chaplain and on the right was the office for The Welfare of Infant and Toddlers. By 1945, it was fully occupied by the church. Once the mine closed and the chaplain vacated the premises, it became increasingly dilapidated and therefore the municipality with efforts from civil society and lobbyist of Maasmechelen applied to have a museum approved.

In 1995 the museum opened to the public and when touring it will take you back to the mineworker’s life in the thirties. The typical furniture and wallpaper, specific painting techniques, a crackling radio and an original current distributor will give a good impression of the mineworker’s daily life.

We had a personalized tour given to us in 2019 during our last visit, and here are photos of the "Museum of the Miners":

During my morning walks I got to see a lot of the town. Here is a video of travels to Eisden and the totally different architecture there is here.

Here are some photos of the area

Terhills Resort is located on the former Eisden mining site and covers about 365 hectares in Dilsen-Stokkem and Maasmechelen. From the industrial mine and gravel quarry of past to the lush fauna and flora, water ways, and unique site it is today, it has become an amazing resort. We took a walk on the property and enjoyed a drink at the outdoor bar.

Here are photos of some of the things the resort has to offer:

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