One of the first things coming to mind when thinking about Luxembourg is the financial sector, picturesque hills and numerous beautiful castles. However, its southern region around Esch-sur-Alzette, also known as Minett, will show you another side of Luxembourg. Its history is linked to iron ore mining and crude iron production. Being elected as the European Capital of Culture in 2022, Esch-sur-Alzette and the surrounding region will shine in a new light while connecting art, culture, European values and reviving the industrial heritage.
Minett region history
Esch-sur-Alzette is the second-largest city in Luxembourg. It’s located in the very south of the country, at the border with France. However, in a small country like Luxembourg, it means it’s only a thirty-minute drive away from Luxembourg City.
The region around Esch-sur-Alzette, also known as Minett, was one of the world centres for iron exploitation during the past. Because of the flourishing industry, workers from all over Europe started arriving at the region as early as the 1880s. In 1913, Luxembourg was one of the world’s ten largest crude iron and iron ore producers.
That industrial past of the region is visible immediately after arriving at it. Although some industry is still taking place in the area, most of it was shut down in the 1990s. Some of the blast furnaces were dissembled and taken away. However, some were left to witness that important part of Luxembourg history.
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That’s especially visible in the municipality of Esch-Belval. It’s standing in huge contrast with other towns in Luxembourg that are characterised by smaller historical buildings. Esch-Belval is a new town built on the site of a former industrial plant. But, the blast furnaces and industrial buildings weren’t completely taken away. They are kept in the city centre to showcase the past of this place.
Blast furnace A is a top tourist attraction in the city today. Renovated and open to visitors, it’s accessible to the public up to the height of forty metres. From there, its visitors could enjoy the fantastic view of Esch-Belval. And only from there all the diversity and contrast of this area could be clearly seen.
Surrounded by lovely hills, the town looks completely new with its modern architecture. But, the presence of the steel industry is still visible, with its parts located in between the buildings. That young vibe of the city could be felt even more once down on the ground again. The majority of those modern buildings belong to the University, and most of the people on the streets are students. It became a proper City of Science during the last few decades.
With the co-existence of industrial plants, modern residential and University buildings, Esch-Belval is such a unique place. Walking around its city centre during the foggy evening feels like walking into some of the black and white Expressionist movies from the 1920s. Blast furnaces all of a sudden look like art installations. They seem like an ode to some past times.
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However, those old industrial plants and blast furnaces aren’t abandoned. Some of them were transformed into visitors centres, museums or exhibition spaces. Even more, from 2022, the majority of them will become very exciting cultural venues, celebrating Esch2022 – European Capital of Culture.
In 2022, the city of Esch-sur-Alzette, together with ten neighbouring municipalities in Luxembourg (and eight in France, just across the border), will become the European Capital of Culture. The main goal of the celebrations throughout the whole year is to bring people living in the Esch region closer to each other by celebrating their joined European heritage and culture.
The program leitmotiv is REMIX CULTURE, and it includes around 160 projects and 2000 events. The idea wasn’t to create the program for its citizens and visitors. But instead to involve people living in the region to participate in making those programs themselves.
One of the goals of these happenings is to find out what the region’s industrial heritage may look like in the future. And how those unused former industrial venues could be used for cultural and scientific purposes.
Once the industrial region, one of the Esch2022 goals is to make the region greener and more sustainable, too. Numerous projects aim to protect nature and encourage people to use greener ways of transportation – by riding their bicycles and walking.
By rediscovering the nature of the region, the goal of Esch2022 is to open up for tourists, as well. The rest of the country is quite popular among the visitors. However, the south of Luxembourg is still equating to the industrial region. But, with so many hiking trails and cycling tours, this tranquil region is a lovely place to discover in Luxembourg.
Two significant exhibition venues during the Esch2022 will be located at Esch-Belval. Both are former industrial spaces that will now merge with the media art. Möllerei was once a warehouse for iron ore and other materials used in cast iron production. Another one is Massenoire, a former production site where a mixture of coke and tar was used to plug the puncture holes in iron casting. The following will be home to an exhibition ‘Remixing Industrial Pasts’, that will showcase the history of Luxembourg’s industrialisation.
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The town of Esch-sur-Alzette is the centre of the region. It’s also a place where numerous cultural venues are being built and rebuilt to shine in a new light during the Esch2022. Its city centre is filled with lovely historical buildings decorated with different ornaments and statues. However, that more traditional side of the town stands in contrast with an urban vibe, especially visible in numerous graffiti and street art widespread throughout the town.
A place that shouldn’t be missed in Esch-sur-Alzette is Kulturfabrik. It’s a cultural centre located in a former municipal slaughterhouse. Today it’s a venue for cultural events, artists in residence, concerts, performances, cinema, gallery etc. It’s also home to some fantastic graffiti art.
It all started with KUFA’s Urban Art Esch project initiated by Kulturfabrik in 2014 when twelve street artists created their first paintings. However, soon they expanded the project. During the last seven years, around seventy street art pieces have been made in ten European cities. Some fifty of them are located in Esch-sur-Alzette.
⤷ TIP: Kunstfabrik is organising the street art walk at Esch-sur-Alzette. For more info, take a look at a link here.
Another interesting cultural venue in the city is Konschthal. The building that used to be a furniture store was acquired by the town in 2020. Recently they opened their doors to the public and started organising contemporary art exhibitions.
The museum not to be missed at Esch-sur-Alzette is the National Museum of Resistance and Human Rights. During Esch2022, they will host a special exhibition, so be sure to visit it if in town while Esch will be the European Capital of Culture.
⤷ TIP: Numerous exciting events will occur at Escher Theatre and Ariston Cinema during the Esch2022. Check out their websites to see the complete program.
Minett Fonds-de-Gras Park
Luxembourg is famous for its beautiful nature, and the region of Esch is home to some fantastic natural parks, too. A great way to learn more about the region’s mining history while exploring some of its lovely nature is by visiting Minett Fonds-de-Gras Park.
Located on an old mine site, it’s a great place for understanding that part of Luxembourg history. The museum hosts a historic trains collection, underground galleries, a historic grocery store where workers were purchasing daily necessities, an old power plant etc. An old train station from where the iron ore was transported all over Europe is also located on the site. Steam train Train 1900 connects the museum park with the town of Pétange and offers an authentic mining experience.
⤷ TIP: A great way to explore these sites is through the Minett Tour. It’s a 35 kilometres long route connecting five sites linked with the history of Luxembourg’s mining and steel industry. You can start at Fonds-de-Gras and continue your journey from there. For more info, take a look at a link here.
Some useful tips for visiting Esch 2022
⤷ How to get to Esch-sur-Alzette? One of the fantastic things about Luxembourg is that the public transport in the whole country is free of charge. So, if you’re going to fly to Luxembourg City, you can take a bus and train from there. You’ll be in Esch-sur-Alzette in approximately half an hour from Luxembourg City. However, you can also easily reach it by car.
⤷ What is the European Capital of Culture? The goal of the European Capital of Culture label is to celebrate European culture that unites the citizens of the entire continent. It showcases the regional uniqueness within the joined European culture.
⤷ Where to stay in the Esch region? I stayed at the Ibis hotel in Belval, and it was convenient to explore the area from there. If you want to be based in the city, I’d recommend you stay in Belval or Esch-sur-Alzette. However, there are some quite unique accommodations at some of those industrial locations, so be sure to check some of them, too.
The region of Esch is a lovely place to explore to understand the industrial past of Luxembourg while enjoying beautiful nature. All of that will be even more interesting during the Esch2022 when numerous cultural events will take place in the region. Esch-sur-Alzette and the surrounding area should get on the 2022 bucket list of any cultural tourists.
I visited Esch-sur-Alzette during the organised press trip. Many thanks to everyone involved for organising such a lovely trip for me. However, as always, all opinions are my own.