Charleroi, located on the river Sambre, is the third largest municipality and fifth-largest city of Belgium situated in Hainaut province of Wallonia, the French speaking part of Belgium. A former mining town, it is viewed unfavourably by Belgians, who often see it as a poor, polluted and violent city that is not attractive at all.

Nevertheless, Charleroi indeed has its share of attractions, including unique museums such as the internationally-acclaimed Museum of Photography. It played an important role in the development of the Belgian comic strip culture, and in the world of modern dance, Charleroi has also become an important place due to its yearly festival. Charleroi also sees a high share of tourist traffic among Belgian municipalities as it is the location of the low-cost “Brussels South-Charleroi airport”. While most tourists head straight from the airport to Brussels and other locations in Belgium, France and the Netherlands, the city itself is worth a go as well.

. . . Charleroi . . .

A map of the former municipalities, now parts of Charleroi, and neighbouring ones. Click the image for a detailed description.

While there are remains of human settlements dating back to prehistoric times across Charleroi, it is actually a rather new city. It was only created in 1666 when the Spanish, who then controlled the Low Countries, started building a fortress there. It is the then King of Spain, Charles II, that the name of the town alludes to. This is why the inhabitants of the town are often alled Carolos.

The city was created at the beginning of a turbulent period, when it saw itself being turned over many times between the Spanish Crown, France, the Netherlands and the Austrian Empire, before finally becoming a part of the independent Kingdom of Belgium in 1830. It was only then when Charleroi became a boom town, as the local supplies of coal fuelled rapid expansion of mining, metallurgy and glass manufacturing. Charleroi and the neighbouring municipalities saw an influx of immigrants from all over Europe.

This all came to a halt following the rapid decline of mining and heavy manufacturing in the area following World War II. By 1970, Charleroi was battling rampant unemployment and poverty. In the following decades, it started reinventing itself as a hub for modern industries, such a bioscience and healthcare, and the city saw the resurgence of the popularity of its airport and its light rail system was reborn as the new metro.

Charleroi lays claim to being one of the birthplaces of the Belgian comic strip culture, as the Spirou magazine was published there first in 1938, featuring such popular comics as “Lucky Luke” and “Smurfs”. This heritage is subtly reminded about throughout the city, e.g. at the metro station Parc you can see Lucky Luke murals, while further characters await for you at the Janson station.

The present-day Charleroi municipality actually comprises much more than just the historic city of Charleroi – it has been expanded in 1977 to encompass fourteen other directly neighbouring and farther small municipalities around the city. Therefore, there are as many as fifteen former town halls and fifteen separate town centres across Charleroi. That way, Charleroi also became the third-largest municipality in Belgium, as other large cities, including Brussels and Antwerp, remain divided into a number of different municipalities.

Charleroi is the capital of the Arrondissement de Charleroi, one of the seven districts of the province of Hainaut. The district includes further neighbouring municipalities, which are not part of Charleroi. There are about half a million people living in this district, a densely-populated and formerly heavily industrialized area.

. . . Charleroi . . .

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. . . Charleroi . . .

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