Nestled in the south of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg lies the Land of the Red Rocks referred to as the Minett by local residents. This region owes its name to the valuable ore that ignited the steel industry in Luxembourg. The region bears witness to an impressive industrial heritage which has been redeveloped into various tourist and cultural attractions. As part of the Remix Esch2022 programme with the University of Luxembourg, we also discover traces of Luxembourg's industrial heritage in Brazil: the mysterious colônia luxemburguesa João Monlevade.
First, let's start by (re)discovering the country's iron and steel history in order to understand the redevelopment of the iconic landscape of the South. Then, in a second article, we'll unveil a tropical version of Luxembourg's industrial south hidden in Brazil!
A short introduction to Luxembourg iron and steel industry
In order to truly comprehend, showcase and appreciate the Grand Duchy's tangible heritage, we must first recognise the importance of its industrial past. With this in mind, here is an overview of the steel industry in Luxembourg.
1839 is a key moment in Luxembourg's history. Following the Treaty of London signed that year, Luxembourg has its territorial ties with the Netherlands severed. Consequently, it must establish an economic base. At that time, the country was mainly agricultural with only a few small industries. Following the Grand Duchy's entry into the German Zollverein in 1842, Germany provided the necessary capital and manpower to develop heavy industry. With the inauguration in 1859 of the first railway line, which opened up the country from a geographical perspective, the conditions for an economic expansion were now ripe for development. But it was the discovery of iron ore deposits in the south of the country during the early 1840s that allowed Luxembourg to launch its industrial revolution. From 1870 onwards, the first major factories were built in the coal-mining region and thus, on the eve of the First World War, Luxembourg was ranked among the top six global producers! In 1911, several companies merged to create ARBED (Aciéries réunies de Burbach, Eich et Dudelange - Integrated steelworks of Burbach, Eich and Dudelange), which became the main player in the Luxembourg steel industry. In 1919, Luxembourg exited the Zollverein and in 1921 it created the Belgian-Luxembourg Economic Union, which is still in effect today. Until the economic crisis in the 1970s, the steel industry remained the backbone of the Luxembourg economy. Between 1974 and 1992, steel production decline by more than 50% and, consequently, the last blast furnace closed in 1997.
Luxembourg's industrial past becomes its heritage
The industrial revolution caused a radical transformation of the landscape of southern Luxembourg, and the material vestiges of the country's industrial history are still evident today. The country's major steel and mining regions, which drove the economy for more than 100 years, have become Luxembourg’s industrial heritage. These areas are currently being actively preserved and developed.
The Belval district in Esch-sur-Alzette and the city of Dudelange have adopted two strategies to regenerate these areas.
The history of Belval is fascinating. The Escher Bësch forest, a recreational area between Belvaux and Esch around 1850, was transformed in 1909 into a state-of-the-art site: a steelworks including blast furnaces, steelworks and rolling mills. In 1913, over 3,000 workers produced a total of 400,000 tons of cast-iron, 360,000 tons of steel and 297,000 tons of rolled products! Belval has even played its part in the construction of Europe: in 1953, Jean Monnet activated the first casting of the European Coal and Steel Community. Following the economic crises of the 1970s, the blast furnaces were shut down after a symbolic last casting in 1997. A reflection on the regeneration begins!
What has happened in Belval since then? The area has become a centre of knowledge and scientific research, a residential zone and an area dedicated to culture and learning.
In terms of centres of knowledge, you'll find, for example, Luxembourg's major scientific institutes and research centres, as well as the business incubator Technoport and the Luxembourg Learning Centre and the library of the University of Luxembourg's Belval Campus. The site has established itself as one of the major development centres in the Grand Duchy and the Greater Region.
In terms of the cultural benefits of the regeneration project, the inauguration of the Rockhal in 2005, the largest concert hall in Luxembourg, was a turning point. In 2014, after major renovation works, the blast furnace site shines bright again! Nestled in the heart of the new urban landscape, it is now accessible to visitors and they can enjoy an educational tour on the history of steel production in Belval.
Also, two of the areas regenerated as part of Esch2022 have become contemporary spaces. The Massenoire, the former production hall for capping compound (referred to as the black compound because it was made from tar), and the Möllerei, which was used in the past to store the fuel and ores which were needed to continuously fuel the blast furnace. These halls will host numerous exhibitions and activities throughout 2022. The Esch2022 agenda, not to be missed!
The city of Dudelange is one of the cradles of the steel industry in Luxembourg. The origins of ARBED date back to the end of the 19th century with the creation of the Société anonyme des hauts fourneaux et forges de Dudelange in 1882. This steel mill is considered as the forebearer of ARBED, which is now ArcelorMittal.
These historical landmarks have been refurbished and house art centres. The Waassertuerm (water tower) and the Pomhouse (pump room) of the former steelworks have been redeveloped and are now used as exhibition spaces. Thus, the water tower, built in 1928, continues to be a landmark in the landscape of southern Luxembourg and an icon of the city!
Migration - the soul of the economic boom
Industrialisation has also changed the demographic and social structures of the country. Following the discovery of mineral deposits in the south of the country, farmers in the north left their agricultural land to work in the mines and factories. Local labour, however, was not sufficient. Thus, in the 1890s, Luxembourg actively encouraged immigration. There were several waves of immigration: the first to arrive were the Germans, then the Italians and finally, in the 1960s, the Portuguese.
In Dudelange, Little Italy is a prime example of a workers' colony developed to house this new workforce. Created at the end of the 19th century, this neighbourhood, which was lodged between the factory and the mine, is proof of the history of migration in the Grand Duchy. As such, we highly recommend a tour of the Documentation Centre on Human Migration to discover the role of migration and its impact on the development of Luxembourg. In fact, without these immigrants, who still make up a large part of the population, Luxembourg would not have experienced the industrial boom and subsequent economic prosperity.
Another wave of migration which is also linked to the industrial heritage of Luxembourg, but much less known, is that of Luxembourgers emigrating to Brazil, which we encourage you to discover in this second article dedicated to Luxembourg's industrial heritage.