In the footsteps of Vincent Van Gogh in the Borinage

Cultural at Cuesmes

48.6 km
Touring cyclist
3h
Hard
Stéphane Ducobu
  • From the “Maison du Marais” in Cuesmes to the former “Marcasse” coalmine in Colfontaine, explore Mons-Borinage and the sites visited by Van Gogh during his time in the region.

    It was during his time in the Borinage and in Mons that Vincent Van Gogh switched from a career as a preacher to that of an artist. It was here that he developed his preference for themes from the day-to-day lives of peasants and workers. From Cuesmes to Flénu, via Frameries, the Grand Hornu and lastly Colfontaine, explore the different places where Vincent Van Gogh lived and worked in the Borinage.
  • Difference in height
    367.36 m
  • Documentation
    GPX / KML files allow you to export the trail of your hike to your GPS (or other navigation tool)
Points of interest
1 Agrappe coalmine
This mine was easily the most deadly anywhere in the Borinage. After the firedamp explosion in 1879, Vincent Van Gogh came here to care for the injured. Agrappe, also known as “Sinistre fosse”, was closed in 1922.
2 Salon du Bébé
This is a former dancehall called “Salon du Bébé”, housing regular meetings of the protestant community. The name “Salon du Bébé” can be traced back to a traditional old game during which the inhabitants of Wasmes had to make their way through the wood looking for a baby that had been hidden there. When the baby was found, the evening continued in the dancehall on Rue du Bois. Vincent Van Gogh preached there several times and there was plenty of room for around a hundred people. The hall no longer exists and the building is now two privately owned workers’ houses.
3 Maison Denis
During his time in Petit-Wasmes, Vincent Van Gogh occupied a room at 121 Rue Wilson, a small house belonging to Jean-Baptiste Denis and his family. On 13 September 1925, the local authorities in Colfontaine, in the presence of Elisabeth Duquesne-Van Gogh, one of the artist’s sisters, fitted a plaque on the front of the building, with the following words: “In this house, in 1878 and 1879, lived Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) from Holland. He was an evangelist at that time, and went on to become one of the greatest painters of the era”. The Maison Denis will undergo extensive renovations as part of “Mons 2015”, European Capital of Culture.
4 Marcasse
Vincent Van Gogh came to the Marcasse coalmine in April 1879 to find out about the working conditions of the miners. A member of the Compagnie des Charbonnages Belges, Marcasse had 11 working mines. A commemorative plaque on one of the buildings reminds visitors of the last disaster that took place on 13 January 1953. A violent firedamp explosion killed 17 men (3 Belgians, 10 Italians, 2 Ukrainians and 2 Algerians), and wounded 9 more, all aged between 25 and 30 years old. This coalmine was closed on 24 October 1954. Located in the municipality of Colfontaine and in the Haine Valley, a nature reserve was established here in 2007 encompassing a large part of the Marcasse slagheap and its surroundings. Since the company was closed down, the slagheap has not been home to any developments or activities. Nature has covered it with trees. Nowadays, the former industrial buildings are the private property of Mr and Mrs Riccardo and Nadine Barberio-Gravis. The site has recently been used as a stunning backdrop to one-off cultural events.
5 Les Vanneaux coalmine
On the initiative of Mr Delarge, managing director in 1934, a vocational mining college was opened. The main goal pursued by the man behind this idea was to offer young people in the company the opportunity to hone their professional and intellectual skills in order to improve their social standing. From training for qualified labourers to coaching for supervisors, candidates had to possess certain abilities that needed to be developed depending on the position chosen (physical and intellectual abilities, skills etc.). After the Second World War, this vocational college was given a new role: that of training foreigners in the basic skills they needed and the French language skills required for them to join the workforce. Despite the closures suffered by the mines in the Borinage, the college kept going until 1963 when the buildings were taken over by the government, who established an educational psychology institute there. The managers and staff, most of whom came from the Borinage, refused to give up this last relic of a an activity that had formed the foundations of the region’s economy for so long into the hands of the demolishers. In 1955, Vicente Minelli’s team all the way from Hollywood filmed some scenes for the film “Lust for Life” in these buildings with Kirk Douglas. The buildings are now used by different departments of Colfontaine’s local authorities.
6 The Grand-Hornu
The Grand-Hornu is a former coalmine that is a fantastic example of the industrial boom of the 19th century. Built between 1810 and 1830 by French captain of industry Henri De Gorge, work stopped at the site in 1954. Saved from falling into ruin by the architect Henri Guchez, the Grand-Hornu was bought by the Hainaut Province in 1989, at the instigation of Claude Durieux, who was Député Permanent at the time. The remarkable architecture of the Grand-Hornu is the work of Bruno Renard, from Tournai, who was taught by the French architects Percier and Fontaine. Built in the Neo-Classical style, the Grand-Hornu includes the industrial mining complex, the miners’ village with around 450 houses and the home of the managers, called the “Château De Gorge”. The addition of more buildings within the site to house the MAC’s was the work of Belgian architect Pierre Hebbelinck. All of the buildings at the Grand-Hornu are used by the not-for-profit centre for design and applied arts, Grand-Hornu Images and the Wallonia-Brussels Federation Museum for Contemporary Arts (MAC’s). This fine heritage site has become one of Belgium’s most important centres of contemporary creativity and has been included on UNESCO’s world heritage list. In the car park in front of the Grand-Hornu, you can see the flagstones of the two former shafts of mine no. 7, Sainte-Louise, which was 787 metres deep. This was the starting point for the first railway in Belgium to transport coal via land to Mons canal at Condé-sur-l’Escaut. Built in 1830 by Henri De Gorge, this horse-drawn railway was around 1,800 metres long.
7 The Gagane slagheap
This former coalmine has now been closed. The site inspired the watercolour painted by Van Gogh in 1879 showing the coking facilities of Charbonnages des Produits à Flénu S.A. (Charbonnage Sainte-Félicité de Flénu Produits and Briquetterie des Frères Carman). In the foreground, a man looks at a pile of bricks that have been left to dry (before being fired) that were used to build the buildings and walls that are still there today, defining the boundaries of the site. On the right, there is a dog. Several pits have subsided, and the large workshops and chimneys for 2 pits can be seen. In the middle, there are 2 coke oven chimneys and the third belongs to a steam engine. The small slagheap is Fosse au Bois n°13, which has now been covered by the Sainte Félicité slagheap. In 1944-45, barracks were built here to house German, Polish and Russian prisoners who worked in our mines.
8 The Quinquet
Cuesmes suffered considerably in the battle led by Dumouriez (the French general who won the Battle of “Jemmapes”) against the Austrians in 1792. The Austrians had incidentally set up their headquarters on the strategically placed Mont Héribus. From the late 18th century, the mining industry grew at an impressive rate, leaving its mark on the surrounding landscape. One of the last vestiges of this glorious past can be found in the Place de Cuesmes, the highly symbolic miner’s lamp nicknamed the “Quinquet”. This huge lamp was built after the last war in the workshops of the Rieu du Cœur coalmines in Quaregnon. In around 1958, when this mine was closed, it was moved to the courtyard at Héribus. When these pits were shut down, the management donated the light to the local authorities, who moved it to its current position.
9 Van Gogh’s house in Cuesmes.
Set off from Mons station and head to Cuesmes for a tour of Van Gogh’s house. At no. 3 Rue du Pavillon, the Maison du Marais is the house in which Van Gogh lived between August 1879 and October 1880, which was saved from falling into ruin in the 1970s. Rescued by a group of volunteers between 1972 and 1975 and taken over by the Office du Tourisme, since further renovation work (2005-2007), the site has been welcoming visitors in a new setting incorporating a reception area and a carefully designed museum. Ever since 2007 it has been a must-see site for fans of the artist in Europe. It is generally agreed that Van Gogh’s time in the Borinage, where he worked as a pastor, was a decisive factor in his decision to become a painter. A place where people can pay tribute, this house is a site where you can really start to understand the man that he was before becoming the illustrious artist we all know today. From the reception area to the house itself, the experience introduces visitors to the life of Van Gogh thanks to illustrated enamel plaques.
10 Ancienne gare de Pâturages
Il débarque ici, en décembre 1878, pour venir prêcher dans le Borinage, à se donner, jusqu'à en souffrir... La gare est accessible à vélo via le RAVeL 98.
367 meters of difference in height
  • Start altitude : 58 m
  • End altitude : 55 m
  • Maximum altitude : 115 m
  • Minimum altitude : 25 m
  • Total positive elevation : 367 m
  • Total negative elevation : -371 m
  • Max positive elevation : 38 m
  • Min positive elevation : -43 m
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