The hole digging begins at the former industrial site Belval in 2000
Photo: The Agora development company.
If you work or study in Belval, have been to the Rockhal recently, had an appointment at Adem, been to the cinema or just fancied some shopping and a bite to eat, you may not be fully aware of the rich history of the place. Delano would like to take you on a journey through time, from the quarter’s mysterious and industrial past to the present day and beyond. Join us in our Belval Series this summer…
Once upon a time there was a hole in the ground in a former industrial site in the south of Luxembourg. It was a large and fairly impressive hole, but still just a hole--full of air and a handful of engineers and town planners scratching their heads.
They had a plan, you see. A very ambitious plan to transform an industrial wasteland, the remnants of the grand duchy’s former glory as the iron and steel-producing heart of Europe into a “Lively and functioning urban quarter,” to use the words of Vincent Delwiche, general manager of the development company Agora.
The year was 2000 and the hole in the ground was the beginnings of what is now Belval, home to business, commerce, the Luxembourg agency for employment (Adem) the University of Luxembourg, public and private research centres, a cinema, a world-class concert hall, schools and creches, a home for the elderly and dwellings for every age group in between--to list just a few…
But first let’s take a look much further back in time because iron and steel was not the first use these 120 hectares of land were put to. According to legend, they have also been home to healing spring water and the supernatural.
1850: The local recreation area between Belvaux and Esch is not only popular; it is also extremely mysterious. Fairy tales are told of the forest that links the two residential areas that is called either “Escher Bësch” or the forest of “Claire Chêne”.
1868: The lawyer Joseph Steichen discovers a mineral spring of exceptional quality in Belval. The water becomes famous for its healing properties and is bottled and marketed commercially from 1893. It enjoys great popularity in Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as the grand duchy, and achieves record sales of over 30,000 bottles in the first year.
1909: The Escher Bësch forest is cleared to make way for one of the most modern steelworks of the time. From the ore dressing to the finished products--with blast furnaces, steelworks and rolling mill, the plant carries out every stage of the production of steel. In 1913, more than 3,000 steelworkers produce 400,000 tons of cast iron, 360,000 tons of steel and 297,000 of rolled products.
1953: On 30 April Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers of the European Community, performed the symbolic tapping of the first European blast furnace for Montanunion in Belval.
1965: The steelworks was completely refurbished and modernised; the work is completed in 1979. The six old blast furnaces are torn down and replaced by three new ones with even higher production capacities.
1993: The three blast furnaces are gradually shut down. They are replaced by an electric furnace that is fed with scrap metal rather than iron ore.
1995: One of the last three blast furnaces is sold to the Chinese Kisco steel group. Over five months, 240 Chinese labourers dismantle the more than 10,000 tons of steel and number and wrap every single piece. 20 months later, the colossus is reconstructed at its new site in Kunming in the province of Yunnan.
1997: The era of iron production in Belval-West draws to a close. The only remaining functional blast furnace is shut down with a symbolic final tapping. Discussions start concerning possible future uses of the approximately 120-hectare site.
And so Belval slept and might still be sleeping if not for the vision of the Luxembourg government and ArcelorMittal (formerly Arbed) to form the development company Agora with the mission of “the holistic and sustainable development of a living urban quarter on the former industrial site.”