Life & Leisure

Urban safari in world’s ugliest city: Charleroi

By Javier Albisu

Charleroi, Belgium, Aug 28 (EFE).- From Art-nouveau-inspired narrow and elongated facades to abandoned factories and neglected neighborhoods, the Belgian old town of Charleroi is a city marked by industrial decay.

Charleroi was voted “the world’s ugliest city” by readers of the de Volkskrant Dutch newspaper in 2008.

Today, the city that is located 50 kilometers south of Brussels is still included on listings of the world’s least attractive cities alongside Amman, Luanda, Los Angeles, Brazzaville and Guatemala City.

“The city is not so much ugly as boring. Nothing happens there. It is not dynamic,” tour guide Nicolas Buissart tells Efe during a visit to discover the ugly sides of the city.

Charleroi, founded in 1666, saw French, Austrians and Dutch migrants settle in its once booming industrial complexes.

The city flourished during the industrial revolution and continued to grow until after the Great Wars.

But in the sixties, many factories shuttered and the rusty urban landscape was mired by unemployment, drugs, and crime, issues that continue to persist.

“There is a mental health problem. People were used to having big companies offering all the services, even schools and swimming pools, and when they left, people became zombies,” 42-year-old Buissart says.

The town with some 200,000 inhabitants was dealt a serious blow in 2016 after the closing of the Caterpillar plant, which took away 2,000 jobs with it.

A few meters from the factory, three young people visiting from the northern Belgian city of Antwerp stroll around the area.

“I’ve always wanted to visit Charleroi because it has a reputation for being a very ugly city and I think there is beauty in ugliness,” says visitor Matthew.

However, not everything is decadent in the city that saw the birth of Spirou magazine in 1938, the journal that created iconic characters like the Smurfs, Lucky Luke and Largo Winch.

Although unemployment is still close to 20%, Charleroi’s socioeconomic outlook has improved in the last decade, with promising projects on the horizon.

Google is set to invest 500 million euros in a data center and Europe’s largest biotechnology school is under construction.

“It is no longer the Charleroi that we knew before. Many companies settle here because there are (financial) advantages, the center offers leisure, it is pedestrianized, there are many restaurants and a shopping center,” Ibis hotel manager Ovidio Matis tells Efe.EFE


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