Hainaut is an area rich with cultural heritage and historic experiences.
The region has ceveral UNESCO World Heritage listed properties, areas and constructions and also a few historical events on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. The areas multiple well preserved historical city centres are also a must visit when in the region. We visited Hainaut to explore the cultural scene and was quite taken by the variety and the uniqueness of the area. Since we wanted to explore large parts of Hainaut, we booked a hotel in the city of Mons, hired a car and drove our way through the region in search for a cultural experience.
We were not dissapointed!
Triobalade and the Le Passenger
To start out our cultural exploration, we started off by doing a guided trip in the city closest to our hotel, the city of Mons. Mons is a great historical city to explore, and what better way to do it than in a private, 3 wheel vehicle? We went for the Triobalade experience! We started our guided sightseeing trip across Mons under the wodden art construction called Le Passenger. Le Passenger is placed at the gateway to the Grand Place, the heart of Mons. Our driver told us about the construction, the history of it and that this edition of the construction was the second, after the first one partly collapsed in 2015, about a year after it first was finished. The construction is created to mimic the flow of the people in Mons, and is painted in strong, warm colors as a wave across the Grand Place main entrance.
During the Triobalade sighseeing trip we criss-crossed through the streets of the city, visiting a lot of the significant places and areas, including the Grand Place with the City Hall and a sculpture of a monkey bringing good fortune if stroking it with your left hand. We also passed by the Civic Museum and ended up at the Dou Dou museum to learn more about this very special, UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage event.
The Dou Dou festival and museum
The Dou Dou festival is an eight day, UNESCO listed festival that annualy takes place in the city of Mons. It is always held on Trinity Sunday, 57 days after easter. The festival was held the first time as a religious procession in 1349 as a reaction to the city being touched by the plague. After the religious procession, the plague miraculously dissapeard. Over the years the festival has changed and adapted to the changes of times, and it now contains a mix of religious events and entertainment of less religious origin. The Dou Dou festival was not held during the French Revolution, in 1803 and during World War 1 and 2. The Dou Dou festival is on the Intangible Cultural Heritage UNESCO list.
After the guided Triobalade trip we were dropped off by, and visited, the dedicated Dou Dou museum to learn more about the festival, the events happening during the festival week and it’s the origin. The museum is spread over multiple levels and you can follow a trail to inside the museum to watch photos and widescreen videos from the very special entertainment, events, battles and parades held during the week-long festival. Even though you get a lot of information about the festival when visiting the museum, you will not understand the full concept without visiting Mons when the real event takes place.
The Grand Hornu
After exploring the historic parts of Mons we decided to learn more about another important heritage of the region, the mining tradition. Hainaut has very a strong mining tradition, and there used to be over 300 mines in the area. After closing down the mines, 4 of them were turned and taken into a different use. The Grand Hornu is one of the mines turned into a completely different and new location.
Grand Hornu was not only a coal mining company, but the area also had a company town, constructed with small houses around the mining area for the workers to live with their family. The houses are still there and a lot of families with young children are living in the area as the houses are quite cheap compared to other areas. The whole Grand Hornu area was built between 1810 and 1830 and is now on the UNESCO World Heritage list as one of only four industrial sites.
Today the mining construction is owned by the province of Hainaut and holds contemporary arts exhibitions and events.
House of Giants
After learning about the mining traditions at the Grand Hornu, we headed towards the town Ath, with a very special museum and festival.
The House of Giants is a museum and it is located in the centre of the town Ath. It hosts giants from around the world during the wintertime. The rest of the year the giants are being used in traditional parades and events. The museum opens the door into the world of Giants, and you can learn about the history of the giants, how they are made and how they are used. The creation of the giants runs in the family, and the art of making the giants is delivered from one generation to the next.
In Ath they have a traditional Giants parade and event every 4th weekend of august. This special event is also on the Intangible Cultural Heritage UNESCO list. The event is divided into different stages and starts with burning of the pants of Goliath, a symbolic gesture that is done to mark the ending of his life as single, and stepping into marrige. The second stage is the marrige between Mr. and Mrs Goliath, and the battle between David and Goliath. The festival is ended with a huge street parade filled with giants. As with the Dou Dou festival, I don’t think visitors can really grasp the whole concept of the festival without visiting during the event week, so if you are into Giants and parades, make sure to visit Ath in late august.
The Hospital Our Lady with the Rose
From Giants in Ath, we continued our cultural exploration in Hainaut. Our next stop was The Hospital Our Lady with the Rose located in Lessines. This property is also a part of the Monumental heritage of Hainaut. It was founded in 1242, and is today known as the last remaining examples of a fully-preserved self-sufficient, medieval hospital site. It contains a farm, monestary, hospital, garden with medical herbs and cemetery. The hospital was dedicated for poor people and all the nuns working there were originally from quite wealthy families. This way they were able to get enought funds to run the hospital for free. The hospital was run for over 650 years and it was only closed down as late as in 1987. Today the property is turned into a museum.
When visiting the museum you can see how the treated patients lived during their stay, the medical equipment they used, and learn about the extensive use of medical herbs in their normal cooking as a way to treat the whole person. The property also has a huge selection of paintings, including one of the few paintings showing Jesus with female attributes, as a symbol of being «Mother» of mankind.
Le Canal du Centre
From the century long history at the Hospital Our Lady with the Rose our roadtrip continued towards a more contemporary cultural site at Le Canal du Centre. Le Canal du Centre is a UNESCO world heritage site in Hainaut. The system contains of 4 hydraulic boat-lifts located over a distance of 7 kilometres, and represent an industrial monument of the highest quality. Le Canal du Centre with it’s boat lift and canal it self is a well-preserved and complete example of a late 19th century industrial landscape, and the only boat lifts from this periode still excisting in their original working conditions.
The canals and connecting structures was originally created for the transportation of coal from the mines in the area. The construction started in 1884 and the structure was opened in 1917. Each of the lifts is covering a change of level of 15-16 metres. The 4 original lifts are now replaced by a new, modern lift for the industry transportation needs on the canals, but the old ones are still in use during the summer season as a leasure offer.
Along the canals there is a well facilitated area for recreational activities. Along the water front there are lots of green grass and trees, and there are nice walkways for walking, biking and running. Benches are also spread out along the walkways, so make sure to go for a stroll and just enjoy the view to the canals and the recreational effect the area provides.
Chateu de Chimay
The last stop of our cultural exploration of Hainaut was to the small town Chimay and the Chimay Castle. The Chimay castle was located just by the town centre of Chimay, and has been owned by the Prince of Chimay and his ancestors for centuries. The family still have their home in parts of the castle. Even though the castle has been destroyd and rebuilt lots of times during the last 1000 years, the last time in a fire in 1935, the castle comes across as well preserved. Reconstruction work is still being done by the current owner and it is possible to visit the castle during most parts of the year, except the winter months.
The castle has a huge art collection, and a fantastic decorated theatre, completed in 1863, where they arrange classical music concerts. The theathre can hold 200 spectators. For children the castle offers tours and half day learning sessions, and they can even hold their birthday party at the castle.
Also learn about the activities and food scene in Hainaut
As you can see, Hainaut region has a lot to offer for travelers interested in cultural heritage and history, and during our week in the area we learned a lot! The experiences took us all over the Hainaut area and in addition to the cultural and historical sites, we also made sure to explore the different activities and the food scene in this exciting region.
You can read more about these experiences and watch our interactive videos in these two articles:
Activities You Weren’t Expecting to Do in Hainaut, Belgium
A Culinary Trip to the Hainaut Region in Belgium