Today Charleroi is one of the poorest and less attractive cities in Belgium and the only reason most of us might go close to it is to fly cheap from it’s airport. But during the industrial revolution this city was the pearl of Wallonia and just behind Brussels the second richest city in the country. But the industry faded and the descendants of the locals and Italian immigrants that once worked in the coal mines are now passing time in bleak cafés or wandering on the banks of the river Sambre as the unemployment rate exceeded 30% in 2006. Most of the shops are closed with thick layers of dust covering the windows that still remain intact. And somewhere below the deserted houses sleeps a half built metro network.
But there are construction works going on in almost every street corner and in some of the abandoned display windows is a sign of a new upcoming opening. On our way to the Musée de la Photographie we passed some beautiful old houses that resembled small castles. The street was decorated with colorful balloons and loudspeakers attached to light posts were playing “Killing me Softly” by Fugees. This was peculiar and intriguing at the same time. So, maybe there is hope for Charleroi as the city is going through a major face lift and the airport is growing it’s importance. And before the tumbledown charm of the city is gone there is a lot of urban exploration to do!