“Atlas of Forgotten Belgium”: 50 Neglected Monumental Beads – Travel

Empty fountains, aquariums and mines, dilapidated architectural heritage, disused bridges and roads: Bart Vanacker and Reinout Bossuyt combine in their “Atlas of Forgotten Belgium” more than fifty forgotten places that are still worthwhile. We searched for their favorites.

Bart Vanacker and Reinout Bossuyt found more than fifty forgotten places in Belgium that are still worthwhile. In each province, they searched for the quiet ruins of monuments, such as a destroyed abbey, pushed trains, fragments of architectural pearls and industrial buildings. With photos, stories and maps, the authors tell the story behind these ruins of the past in their book “Atlas of Forgotten Belgium, 68 Hidden Places to Discover for Yourself”. Thanks to the address details and practical information, you can also discover them yourself during your forced stay.

How did you come up with the idea for this book?

Bart Vanacker: “In 2018, we wrote the book ‘Disappearing Belgium’, which focused mainly on lost or endangered monuments. In this book we want to address the forgotten places. Every Belgian province hides such peculiarities, large or small, which are rarely found in tourist brochures. But the history of these places appeals to the imagination. Think of an aqueduct with Roman charm, an inflated tram bridge that can reach Pont d’Avignon or a car factory with a circuit on the roof, just like Fiat’s Lingotto plant in Turin. A car or train journey of a few hours is enough to be confronted with railways, holiday paradises and factories that have been removed from our memory. The current state of these places can be very different. A monument has been repurposed or become a modest tourist attraction. Other buildings have not been touched with pliers for half a century or are on the verge of collapse.”

Where did you surprise the most?

The drunken pit in Middelkerke

“At the end of the 19th century, this concrete container was supposed to store drinking water for the fast-growing coastal city. However, the rising groundwater caused the well to be distorted. Today it is still there and you can actually visit it. They climb down the crooked stairs and end up in the pit where everything is wrong. A special experience.”

© Bart Vanacker

The sanatorium in Tombeek

“The sanatorium was built at the beginning of the 20th century on a hill in Overijse. It became a modernist jewel. Since its closure in the late 1980s, the building has stood empty and fallen into disrepair. In the meantime, it has been completely converted into a nursing home. It’s a fascinating place for us because we’ve seen it both in shutdown and renovation.”

Bart Vanacker
© Bart Vanacker

The aquarium caves in Ghen

“During the 1913 World’s Fair, an aquarium cave was built in the artificial rocks in the Citadel Park in Ghent. The visitors climbed a staircase into the cave and were able to marvel at the fish that swam around in aquariums. Today you can still see the niches in which these aquariums must have stood and the excellent rusted water pipes.”

Bart Vanacker
© Bart Vanacker

The test track in Trooz, Liege

“For reasons of space, a test track was built in 1929 between the shed roofs of the car manufacturer Imperia, the last Belgian car manufacturer. It became an 800-meter-long orbit. Thirty years later, the factory was closed. The line is now unused and has even been half demolished.”

Bart Vanacker
© Bart Vanacker

The useless ring around Lommel

“This ring road is one of the useless works in our country, which shows very painfully how casually public money was handled in the 1970s. The 750-metre-long double carriageway was never completed and is lined with guardrails at both ends. You don’t see cars or trucks now, but neighbours walking the dog, cyclists and joggers.”

Bart Vanacker
© Bart Vanacker

Which forgotten places should we not miss?

Victor Horta Volkshaus

“It shows how Art Nouveau buildings were handled in the 1960s. It was still too new and therefore not worth protecting. This building disappeared under the sledgehammer in 1965 and was to be rebuilt elsewhere. That never happened. The remains are scattered throughout Belgium, including the “De Porre” district park in Gentbrugge. The iron beams are processed in Antwerp’s Grand Café Horta.”

Hotel Kosmos at the top of the Rodeberg

“At the beginning of this century, the hotel closed its doors after the nearby swimming pool was no longer licensed, leaving visitors away. The modernist resort fell victim to vandals and arsonists. It is no longer accessible, but the exterior alone is a jewel. That’s why it made it onto the cover of our book. Where the swimming pool once lay, today you will find a landscape park.”

Borgerhoff & Lamberigts
© Borgerhoff & Lamberigts

Sauwartan Coal Mine

“The Sauwartan concrete coal mine is located in a forest near Dour. The location alone is unique. The building dates back to 1928, but was only in use for ten years. The concrete carcass remained upright and rested there to this day. A unique view.”

Bart Vanacker
© Bart Vanacker

The half-arch bridges of Bohan and Membre

“These bridges prove that you don’t have to go to Avignon to see a dead end. The viaducts above the Semois formed two works of art on a neighborhood railway. During World War II, both viaducts were blown up, and it was not built to repair the line. The tracks were broken open and two bridges, which were halved above the Semois, were hung.

Bart Vanacker
© Bart Vanacker

Tuileries du Littoral Dry Scales

“The dry sheds of the Littoral roof tile factory in Kortrijk have been restored today. This was not the case a few years ago: after the closure of the factory, they collapsed like a pudding and the owner wanted to bulldoze the complex. For them, a new feature was non-negotiable, it would simply cost too much money. After intervention by the Flemish Association of Industrial Archaeology and a handful of Kortrijk politicians, the dry sheds were protected and restored. Today, they house the energy-efficient offices of Wienerberger, a manufacturer of sustainable ceramic building materials, which turns out to be “his most punishing showroom” on its premises. Or how a dreaded reassignment can still bear fruit.”

Bart Vanacker
© Bart Vanacker

Bart Vanacker & Reinout Bossuyt, Atlas of Forgotten Belgium (€29.99), from 11 July Borgerhoff & Lamberigts.

Bart Vanacker and Reinout Bossuyt found more than fifty forgotten places in Belgium that are still worthwhile. In each province, they searched for the quiet ruins of monuments, such as a destroyed abbey, pushed trains, fragments of architectural pearls and industrial buildings. With photos, stories and maps, the authors tell the story behind these ruins of the past in their book “Atlas of Forgotten Belgium, 68 Hidden Places to Discover for Yourself”. Thanks to the address details and practical information, you can also discover them yourself during your forced stay. Bart Vanacker: “In 2018, we wrote the book ‘Disappearing Belgium’, which focused mainly on lost or endangered monuments. In this book we want to address the forgotten places. Every Belgian province hides such peculiarities, large or small, which are rarely found in tourist brochures. But the history of these places appeals to the imagination. Think of an aqueduct with Roman charm, an inflated tram bridge that can reach Pont d’Avignon or a car factory with a circuit on the roof, just like Fiat’s Lingotto plant in Turin. A car or train journey of a few hours is enough to be confronted with railways, holiday paradises and factories that have been removed from our memory. The current state of these places can be very different. A monument has been repurposed or become a modest tourist attraction. Other buildings have not been touched with pliers for half a century or are on the verge of collapse.”