For those who do not know yet, the Creusot Montceau Urban Community is located in the Burgundy-Franche-Comté region, more particularly in the Saône-et-Loire department. 34 municipalities are gathered around its two main cities, Le Creusot and Montceau-les-Mines. Even if we will have the opportunity to come back in the autumn on the beauty of its landscapes and the nature of the territory, as well as on its art of living around the gastronomy and the numerous possible outdoor activities, it is on the richness of the heritage that it is important today to stop. With its rich industrial and mining past, it offers many interests for history and architecture lovers. A stay in Creusot Montceau is an opportunity to see how towns and industrial structures have been integrated into the natural environment over time, and to discover a part of Burgundy that has left its mark on French history.
Le Creusot, destiny of an industrial town
How can we talk about Le Creusot without mentioning the Schneider family? As a reminder, the brothers Adolphe and Eugène, who are the masters of the forge, have contributed to making the town a city known throughout the world. First of all, they bought the Creusot forge in 1836, which was then bankrupt, and then they took advantage of the birth of the railway to make the town a real industrial centre. More than just talented entrepreneurs, they also contributed to the implementation of a paternalistic policy through the construction of housing, schools and hospitals. A way of organizing the territory's activity and social achievements that was even qualified as "ahead of its time". A stroll through the town is an opportunity to relive the crucial period of the Schneider family's time in Le Creusot. The first stop is at the Château de la Verrerie, Marie-Antoinette's former crystal factory, which became the Schneider family residence, thanks in particular to the redesign work undertaken by the architect Ernest Sanson and the landscape architects Henri and Achille Duchêne. This superb U-shaped residence, where the furnaces of the former crystal factory can still be seen, is set in the heart of a beautiful green setting. One of the furnaces, which were housed in conical towers, is now a theatre. The building, classified as a historical monument, now houses two places that are essential for a better understanding of the history of the town, the influence of the Schneiders and the glass and metal industry: the Museum of Man and Industry and the Industry Pavilion. In fact, a stroll through Le Creusot leads walkers to places where everything reminds of the Schneiders and the industry: from the street names to the statues scattered here and there and the churches of Saint-Eugène and Saint-Henri. Among the other unmissable monuments, you should not miss the brick facade of the crane and locomotive workshop, quite simply the oldest industrial building on the Creusot site that has been preserved. A university library has now replaced the workshop dedicated to the assembly of steam locomotives, which later became a storage depot for the steelworks. Built around 1849 in the heart of the Riaux plain, its architecture perfectly symbolizes the industrial halls of the 19th century. The fame of Le Creusot is also due to the presence of the unmistakable Marteau-Pilon. This impressive machine tool, designed by the engineer François Bourdon, is equipped with a hammer weighing no less than 100 tons and is 21 metres high. The structure, whose shape is reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower in many respects, is today the pride of the Creusotins.
Montceau-les-Mines and the industrial boom
Like Le Creusot, the history of Montceau-les-Mines has also been marked by the domination of one family, the Chagots, for almost a century. As a mining town, many places in the town offer the possibility of plunging back into the time when it lived essentially from coal mining and industry. For it is here that the fate of the city has changed from the second half of the eighteenth century, becoming a place of proliferation of coal mining shafts, workshops and factories because of the natural wealth of its basement.
A trip to Montceau-les-Mines offers a journey through time. After visiting the imposing and superb blue movable bridge that spans the Canal du Centre, it is pleasant to discover the other key places in the past life of Montceau. The School Museum presents an old school built in 1882, equipped with two reconstructed classrooms, one evokes 1900 and the other 1960. A place where we linger on the layout, the furniture and where we take a close look at the evolution of the primary school during the 20th century. Further on, you will be moved by past workers' struggles when you see the façade of the Miners' Union, a major place for workers' demands in Saône-et-Loire at the time.
The Chavannes washhouse is worth a look on the canal road leading to Ciry-le-Noble. Built from 1923 onwards for the Blanzy collieries, it was one of the most powerful mineral processing plants in Europe. The place cannot be visited, but its immensity catches the eye. Factory visits are another activity not to be missed. The Aillot factory, dating from the 19th century, used to manufacture road rollers for public works. Today, it houses old vehicles where the public can sit behind the wheel of mythical trucks and enjoy a cultural activity that is overflowing. A complete change of atmosphere as you pass through the doors of the Perrin factory, which dates back to 1924, and where you can discover the different stages and the art of making socks and tights! Brands such as Berthe aux Grands Pieds, La Chaussette Française, Dagobert à l'Envers and Chaussettes Perrin are produced exclusively here.
Fascinating ceramic valley
For a long time, the ceramics industry flourished in Saône-et-Loire, becoming the third largest industrial sector in the region. From 1850 onwards, with industrialisation and the use of the steam engine, ceramics production in Creusot Montceau and along the entire route of the Canal du Centre developed intensively.
Indeed, the territory benefited from all the assets for the flourishing of this industry: the presence of clay in the ground, a large quantity of coal from the Blanzy coal mines in Montceau to feed the kilns, then the arrival of the railway in the region to send the products. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Ceramic Valley saw the establishment of around forty factories dedicated to the production of tile works, pottery, stoneware containers, tiles and earthenware. Unfortunately, in 1940, the sector collapsed in the region as a result of competition from new materials. Nevertheless, a walk in the Ceramic Valley is an opportunity to contemplate several vestiges of this period. For example, you should visit the superb Villa Perrusson, an architectural masterpiece with its colourful facades and roofs. It is located in Écuisses, which, like about fifteen other villages along the valley, from Montchanin to Chagny, is worth a visit to admire the many houses with facades decorated with ceramic tiles and multicoloured earthenware. Finally, in Ciry-le-Noble, a visit to the brickworks allows you to discover an ancestral know-how, in an original infrastructure with period machinery and equipment.
When to visit? Although all seasons are suitable for a stay in Burgundy-Franche-Comté, winter can be cold in the eastern part of France, so be sure to cover up between visits to each site. Spring, summer, and the milder autumns, on the other hand, are good for long walks outdoors.
How to get there. By car, from Paris or Lyon (A6 motorway; from Marseille, take the A7, then the A6. By train, several connections are possible every day from Paris Gare-de-Lyon. The journey takes 1h20. From Lyon, only 40 minutes by TGV. From Marseille, it takes a little over 3 hours.
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